In remembrance | May 22, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - May 22, 2009

In remembrance

Oak Hill Park ceremony will honor veterans - from the Revolutionary War onward

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Take a moment to remember those who gave their all in service to their country. This is the sentiment behind the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Oak Hill Park in Danville, a cooperative effort by the VietNam Veterans of Diablo Valley, the Town of Danville and the All Wars Memorial Foundation.

"Overall this is a wonderful opportunity for all the families in the San Ramon Valley to honor all the veterans - not only the soldiers who gave their lives - and the families and friends of those who have served," said David Behring, vice president of the All Wars Memorial Foundation.

American flags will lead the way to Oak Hill Park at 3005 Stone Valley Road in Danville, next to Monte Vista High School, on Monday morning. The event, which usually draws about 1,000 people, begins at 11 a.m. but folks are asked to arrive earlier.

"We will have the main part of the ceremony on the lawn right next to the lake," said Foundation president Bill Picton. "We will have the Marine Corps Color Guard, the Sheriff's bagpipers and a presentation of colors."

Picton himself will go to the All Wars Memorial at 8 a.m. to lower the flag to half staff.

Special guest Abraham Lincoln will deliver the Gettysburg Address. After the formal ceremony, Honest Abe will gather children around him to tell some stories in the first person.

This will be the second appearance at the ceremony for the renowned impersonator.

"Everything is in first person; you really feel as though you're talking to President Lincoln," said Behring. "It's an exciting way for children to learn about history."

The keynote speaker will be retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James Michael Myatt, a native of San Francisco. During his U.S. Marine Corps career, Gen. Myatt served in command positions in all three active Marine divisions.

He was promoted to brigadier general in 1988 at the age of 46, the youngest man in the history of the Corps to be promoted to the rank of general. During the four-day ground war of Operation Desert Storm in February 1991, his division defeated seven Iraqi Army divisions, seized Kuwait International Airport and liberated Kuwait City.

During the ceremony, two F-16s from the 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno will do a flyover. There also will be a tribute to Lt. Jim Swett, a Marine fighter pilot, and one of the four Medal of Honor winners who spoke at the major fundraising event when the All Wars Memorial was in its planning stages.

"We will have a processional over to the Memorial where we will have David Behring recite Jim Swett's Medal of Honor citation," said Picton, "and we will have some Gold Star Families present."

The All Wars Memorial was dedicated four years ago at the 2005 Memorial Day event. It has five Liberty Panels that depict historically significant events from the Revolutionary War up until today. The Freedom Wall has quotes engraved in granite about every generation continuing the constant struggle for freedom.

"We are putting a new patina finish on the five bronze plaques that depict certain periods of military history, and the eight-foot sculpture," Behring said. "We encourage people to look at the pavers and bronze plaques ... I enjoy watching people. You might see three generations together."

Many families bring picnic lunches to share the patriotic event and then enjoy the park setting.

"Normally the weather is beautiful on Memorial Day," Behring noted.

The ceremony will also feature the haunting melody of "Taps," played by Laurie McGaw, who was first trumpet for the San Francisco Symphony and also played in the Marine Corps Band. The melody will be echoed by trumpet player Bill Picton.

"We'll close with the bagpipes playing 'Amazing Grace' plus raising the flag back up from half mast," said Picton.