May 29, 2017 - Memorial Day Event
Montclair City Hall, Montclair, California
The City of Montclair has a long-established custom of proudly commemorating Memorial Day that includes the recognition of new names to be added to their Veterans’ Memorial Wall. Annually, each Memorial Day, at the Memorial Garden, (located adjacent to Montclair City Hall,) Montclair remembers the outstanding courage and commitment of her citizens who have “given so much to our great country.”
Guests arrived to a well-planned, and well-attended commemoration. Dignitaries included a U.S. Congresswoman, a California State Senator, California Assembly Member, a Co-Director of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force, an L.A. County Supervisor, distinguished veterans, and city and community officers. In an exemplary ceremony, worthy of any city to model, the Montclair Memorial Day Program for May 29, 2017, proceeded with a welcome, an invocation by the Montclair Police Chaplin (Vicki Brobeck,) and a presentation of the colors by Montclair High School’s Junior ROTC. After Retired Master Sergeant Arturo Padilla led the Pledge of Allegiance, a barbershop quartet, The Dudes of Four Tunes, sang the National Anthem in wonderful harmony. Montclair Community Action Committee Chair, Laurie Milhiser then introduced Mayor Paul M. Eaton who acknowledged all of the participants and thanked all in attendance after delivering his Memorial Day message.
Next, in colorful red and white outfits, the Walkers Choral Group, a collection of senior voices from throughout the city, then sang selections of patriotic songs.
Then the World War 1 Centennial Anniversary Commemoration was delivered by Bill Betten, Co-Director of the WW1 Centennial Task Force, as the keynote address. Bill told the story of a farm boy and his younger brother 100 years ago, who were sent to Fort Riley, Kansas before shipping off to France, first crossing the treacherous submarine infested waters of the Atlantic. Both fought in the same division in the Battle of Belleau Wood where the younger brother was severely wounded, but the farmboy continued on to fight in almost every major battle the Americans were in.
A little more than a month before the Armistice, He was shot in the chest and left for dead. The Germans picked up the body, and threw him on the dead wagon. When he came to, he pulled himself from under the bodies, struggled to escape the Germans, and crawled back across No-Man’s-Land where he was gassed. Co-Director Betten explained that it was near miraculous that he survived to return home to become the speaker’s own grandfather.
Bill then reminded the audience that WW1 was hardly anything like the average person considers war to be. The numbers were astonishing, considering the few months U.S. soldiers fought. Over 280,000 dead or wounded, with many more who came home with “shellshock,” what we now call PTSD. Maintaining lasting relationships was hard. Both brothers found keeping a job difficult, as many WW1 veterans did, especially those who had been gassed. Decades later their cousin, who had also been gassed, finally died of emphysema. Still, they were all proud to say they had served their country for the sake of freedom.
Bill closed with a short history of the origins of Memorial Day that began with the decorating of the graves. He then explained how similar to that are the important goals of the United States World War One Centennial Commission and the California World War One Centennial Task Force in finding the lost WW1 memorials across the nation, building a monument to those who served in WW1 on the National Mall in Washington DC, and commemorating their memory in what we do today.
Montclair officials then honored the individuals who had plaques on the city’s Veterans’ Memorial Wall, and paid tribute to deceased Montclair veterans from all branches of service with a ringing of the Fire Department’s bell at the reading of each name on the wall, including the new names listed this year. The wall remains an ongoing dedication to those citizens of Montclair who served their country during any war or peacetime. This commemoration climaxed with a placing of a glorious wreath presented by Mayor Eaton.
Montclair City Council Member Bill Ruh was supported by Community Action Committee Members in a reading of Lt. Col. John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields followed by the barbershop quartet singing a medley of patriotic hymns. After closing with a few words, Taps was played by a live trumpeter. Then all in attendance were invited to the nearby Senior Center Hall to enjoy a BBQ and examine Bill Betten’s World War 1 display.
While guests enjoyed a lunch of Barbecue, they could peruse the California WW1 Centennial Task Force table with items for sale with proceeds going to support the Task Force and raise funds for the new WW1 monument on the Capitol Mall in Washington DC. The wide variety of artifacts on display also triggered countless inquiries. Numerous individuals spent time at the display tables asking many questions of Bill and his wife Joni Betten on the history of the war and the artifacts presented.