(Louie Montano (left) joins second-graders from Echo Valley Elementary School and others in presenting the colors during the 26th annual Memorial Day Avenue of the Flags Ceremony at Castroville Public Cemetery. Photo by Erik Chalhoub/Register-Pajaronian)
MOSS LANDING — In 1968, the United States was entrenched in the height of the Vietnam War, with 500,000 men and women serving in the long and difficult conflict.
At war’s end, nearly 60,000 U.S. casualties were reported.
Fernando Torres-Gil, the director of policy research on aging at UC Los Angeles, told a gathering at the Castroville Public Cemetery Monday morning to continue to honor those who served in the Vietnam War as the nation marks five decades since its height.
Torres-Gil was the keynote speaker during the Avenue of the Flags Ceremony, an annual event put on by the North Monterey County LULAC Council #2907, Veterans of Foreign Wars and others at the Castroville Public Cemetery for 26 years.
He served under President Jimmy Carter on the Federal Council on Aging, and over the years was appointed to various departments by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Fernando Torres-Gil was the keynote speaker. Photo by Erik Chalhoub/Register-Pajaronian
Noting that a childhood disability prevented him from enlisting in the military, Torres-Gil said he had many families members who served, and that he has made it his “life’s work” to help aging veterans.
“We can never forget that freedom is not free,” he said. “Someone must be willing to serve in our nation’s military, and put themselves in harm’s way.”
Vietnam War veterans still need assistance, whether it be with housing, healthcare or other needs, Torres-Gil said.
“Let us continue to honor those who died in that war, and those who came home, persevered, built their lives, and served their community,” he said. “They still warrant our support.”
Vietnam War veterans Louie Montano and Victor Suarez opened the ceremony by lighting a candle.
“Light means peace,” Suarez said. “This is why we light a candle — to bring peace to the world.”
Suarez added that many people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day in November. Memorial Day, he said, is meant to honor those who died while serving in the military, while Veterans Day celebrates all who are in the service.
Michael Davenas performs a bagpipe tribute. Photo by Erik Chalhoub/Register-Pajaronian
Senator Bill Monning, whose father died during active duty, had another explanation of the difference.
“Anyone who’s lost a loved one in conflict knows the difference,” he said.
Also on Monday, the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery, located on the former Fort Ord in Seaside, hosted its first-ever Memorial Day ceremony.
The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, along with veterans organizations, presented the annual Memorial Day Remembrance at Evergreen Cemetery.