May 25, 2014

Memorial Day at Santa Nella national cemetery still has meaning

Anita Hanson, director of the national Veterans Memorial Programs Service, was the featured speaker Sunday at the San Joaqun Valley National Cemetery’s annual Memorial Day ceremony. She said the holiday should be a time to make sure military service men and women are cared for when they return home.

Some view Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer and spend the holiday weekend barbecuing, relaxing by a pool or shopping.

Anita Hanson believes it’s much more than that, even though she says recent news reports suggest many have a distant disconnect with those who serve in the military. She says some think Memorial Day has lost its meaning.

“I disagree,” Hanson said to a few hundred people gathered at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery. “The fact that you’re here today shows me you care.”

Hanson, director of the national Veterans Memorial Programs Service, was the featured speaker Sunday at the national cemetery’s annual Memorial Day ceremony.

She said the holiday should be a time to make sure military servicemen and -women are cared for when they return home. “We must not forget the living,” Hanson told the audience.

For those who have died, Hanson said, 18 new national cemeteries will be created by the end of this decade. That will give 20 million veterans the option of being laid to rest at a national cemetery within 70 miles of their home, she said.

More than 38,000 veterans have been laid to rest at the national cemetery in Santa Nella. Cynthia Nunez, acting director of the cemetery, said the annual ceremony is a time to pause and recognize those who made the “ultimate sacrifice” while serving their country.

“Those of you who are here today to visit loved ones, I wish you comfort,” Nunez said to the attendees.

The ceremony included a rifle salute and a rendition of taps by the California State Honor Guard. Members of the Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers and Wives participated in the wreath presentation.

Even a technical mishap couldn’t dampen the patriotic spirit at Sunday’s ceremony. Tim Weimer, pastor at the First Baptist Church of Newman, sang the national anthem. He didn’t turn on his microphone, so the audience could barely hear his voice.

Weimer didn’t realize his microphone was off until the audience decided to help him out. Halfway through the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the audience joined him singing. The pastor said he was touched by the spontaneous group effort.

“I thought it was wonderful,” Weimer said after the ceremony. “It shows their patriotism and their love for their country.”

The microphone was working fine for Weimer later in the ceremony when he belted out “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta updated the audience with his town’s effort to create a memorial for fallen soldiers. A group of Los Banos High School students was tasked with finding biographical information for 15 soldiers from Los Banos killed in action, and the mayor said the students have accomplished their goal.

But the organizers of the memorial have not found photographs for three of the soldiers. The photographs will be used as part of the memorial, which will be located at the Los Banos City Hall.

At Sunday’s ceremony, Villalta asked for the public’s help in finding information that will help locate the needed photos. He hopes to dedicate the memorial a year from now and asked anyone with photos or information to call Los Banos City Hall.

“It’s up to us to honor these men and keep their memories alive,” the mayor told the audience.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, spoke at the ceremony about the need to do more for veterans. He mentioned news in recent months of problems providing services.

“They are our heroes,” Costa said. “Their sacrifice and bravery is what America is all about.”

Lawmakers from both parties have pressed for a federal policy change as the Department of Veterans Affairs confronts allegations about treatment delays and falsified records at VA centers, the Associated Press reported.

The Obama administration said Saturday it will allow more veterans to obtain health care at private hospitals and clinics in an effort to improve their treatment, and VA facilities are enhancing capacity of their clinics so veterans can get care sooner.

In late April, Costa authored an amendment that would give the VA additional resources to address the disability claims backlog. The congressman has said he wants to remove the red tape that separates veterans from the benefits they’ve earned.

“We will get to the bottom of it and make sure things get fixed,” Costa told the audience Sunday.

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