Hundreds gather for Memorial Day service in Fair Oaks

05/28/2013 12:00 AM

05/28/2013 9:02 AM

Rain threatened, but Deedee Thompson and hundreds of other area residents gathered Monday at Mount Vernon Memorial Park in Fair Oaks to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

The Memorial Day service unfolded in front of a traveling replica of architect Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Unlike the original glossy stone sculpture, which is sunken into the National Mall, the replica was clearly visible from a distance. Its rows and rows of names gave emphasis to every prayer, every speech, every poem.

Fat raindrops began to fall intermittently after the service, but Thompson, of Citrus Heights, said she couldn't leave without thanking a veteran. She shook hands with Carlos Sotomayor, a Roseville resident who was a sniper for the U.S. Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War.

"I just lost a brother-in-law to Agent Orange last week," Thompson said. "I came to honor everybody. My great-grandfather fought, my grandfather, and my grandson is serving currently."

It was Sotomayor's second Memorial Day event of the day. A number of kids from his old neighborhood in San Jose enlisted, and he wanted to honor them.

Shingle Springs' Dave and Jackie Nelson had relatives from Galt and Huntington Beach join them at the service. Their family party of seven said they enjoyed everything – the patriotic poetry and music, prayers for soldiers and veterans, the speech and the military pomp.

"I had my father's flag refolded ... ," said Galt resident Lisa Habbestad, whose late father, Herbert Gefell, was a World War II veteran. "I think I've had it for 20-some years."

Sgt. Maj. Daniel DeGeorge, the top-ranking noncommissioned officer in the California National Guard's Veteran Honors Program, delivered the keynote address. He's in charge of sending out honor details to perform gravesite tributes at roughly 1,000 funerals a month in California.

"I urge you to take a moment to reflect on those who sacrificed their lives," he told the crowd. "This moment of remembrance is something each one of us can do to keep their memory alive in our hearts. Surely, we owe them nothing less than to remember them and to give thanks for all they have done on our behalf."

DeGeorge quoted Colin Powell, George Marshall and other well-known leaders, but he didn't share the story of his family's willingess to make the ultimate sacrifice. Not only did DeGeorge enlist in the U.S. Army, but so did his two sons, Thomas and Daniel Jr. He said he tried to talk them out of it, to no avail.

"The most difficult thing for me was being a father with his sons deployed," he said, "and at the time, I was a senior chaplain assistant for the California National Guard so I was very much involved with casualty reports and other news coming in. That was a very difficult time for me, to be a parent and to be a soldier at the same time."

Call The Bee's Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/anderson. Follow him on Twitter @cathiea_sacbee.

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