On a cool and windy recent May morning, Catherine Figueroa donned a camouflage coat and ball cap as she arrived at the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery in Seaside. She drove to the top of the hill, to the Columbarium that contains the ashes of her husband, Army veteran Pedro Figueroa, who died in October 2018.
“Today (May 11) would have been our 43rd wedding anniversary,” Catherine said. “We met at a nightclub in Monterey when he was a soldier at Fort Ord. He loved the Army. That was his life.”
Catherine Figueroa considers herself blessed to have had so many great years with Pedro, whose 11-year Army career ended in 1986. Together they faithfully attended military-related events, including Memorial Day, each year in their home town of Gonzales.
She will return to the Seaside cemetery at 8 a.m. on Monday for the Memorial Day tribute to those who weren’t so fortunate: the men and women who died while serving the nation and defending its Constitution.
It will mark the first time the cemetery, located at 2900 Parker Flats Road in Seaside, will hold a Memorial Day ceremony following two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. It represents a return to the rituals and traditions of America’s most sacred military day.
“COVID took away lots of the rituals and ceremonies in people’s lives,” said Erica Chaney, the cemetery’s director. “By honoring Memorial Day, it will bring the community together.”
Visitors will return to a veterans’ cemetery that is still in its infancy and building its legacy. Located on the former Fort Ord Army Base on the Monterey Peninsula, the state received 78 acres when the federal government closed the base in the early 1990s.
After many years of planning, the California Department of Veterans Affairs opened the cemetery in 2016. Phase I allowed cremains-only inurnments in its 15 Columbaria, and plaques on its Memorial Wall. Phase II —which allows in-ground burials— was completed and opened in May 2021. It now spans 10 acres, with plenty of room to grow as needed.
The cemetery received an Organizational Excellence Award from the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs in October 2019, just three years into its existence. The pandemic halted public gatherings in 2020 and most of 2021.
The cemetery hosted a well-attended Veterans Day event in November 2021. The last Memorial Day service was held in 2019, and Chaney is among those who are eager to see it return.
“It’s important because we have such a large veteran community here,” Chaney said.
The roster of speakers is not yet finalized. Memorial Day events traditionally include the presentation of colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, an invocation, an original poem, the playing of taps, a bagpipes rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and the raising of the Epic Flag.
The American League Epic Riders escorted the flag on a month-long 10,000-mile journey to Arlington National Military Cemetery in Virginia in 2017. It flew over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before being returned to the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery, where the Epic Riders presented it to be flown during ceremonies, such as the one here Monday.
It is an important day to folks like Catherine Figueroa, who will come to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The pledge … the flag … the salute … every Memorial Day,” she said.
For more information about the California Central Coast Veterans Cemetery visit the CCCVC website.