Near the small community of Weed, just 25 miles from the Oregon border, the Living Gardens Sculpture Memorial stands with Mount Shasta as a spectacular backdrop.
Dedicated in 1994, its Memorial Wall bears the names of those from Siskiyou County who died while defending our nation and its Constitution.
Some 870 miles south and just 15 miles from Mexico, the California city of Calexico honors its fallen with a monument next to its 102-year-old city hall.
In communities from the north to south, from the eastern Sierra to the West Coast, and in nearly every city and town in between, memorials and monuments have been created to honor those who gave their lives. These dedications, while made of stone and metal, are more like the flags draping the coffins of the men and women who are returned home. They are woven into the very fabric that makes a community. A memorial is a promise to a family that their loved one will not be forgotten.
The vast majority of these monuments have this in common: room for more names they hope they never have to add. History suggests they will. More conflicts, more battles, more of their own to be mourned and remembered.
“War delivers grief to our doorsteps and into our hearts,” said CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani MD. “It is felt deeply in every community whose sons and daughters perish in battle. It is important that they are honored with such dignity.”
When Congress established the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971, Memorial Day – America’s most sacred national holiday – became blurred by the three-day weekend of barbecues, outdoor activities, and car sales ads.
In many cases, these communities spent years raising funds, planning, and designing elaborate memorials that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, not including volunteered time.
Or, in the case of the town of Paradise, two high school students in 2009 each raised the money to build separate memorials. One honors all from the town who died while serving. The other, next to it, honors those who served in the Korean War. Both memorials withstood the deadly and devastating fire of 2018.
A look up and down the state finds memorials in nearly every community.
- After Army captain and Crescent City native Bruno G. de Solenni was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in 2008, a group of local veterans in that small North Coast community banded together to erect a memorial. In 2014, they asked Kelly Schellong, a former city councilwoman and whose son was in the Army at the time, to spearhead the effort. She raised over $200,000, and guided the committee through the red tape involved in working with the California Coastal Commission to locate the monument at Front Street, along Crescent Harbor.
“It was a total team effort,” said Schellong, who arranged a series of fundraisers. “We raised $40,000 in one night. That really got us started.”
They dedicated the beautiful memorial in 2019.
- To the east near Weed, the Living Memorial Garden rests on 136 acres of Klamath National Forest Land, with a backdrop of 58,000 trees. Within this art garden is the Hot LZ Memorial Wall, which includes the names of all from Siskiyou County who died while serving. It also includes various sculptures, said Susan Breceda, president of the memorials board. Each has a facet of war. “The family left at home. POWs and KIAs,” Breceda said. “Refugees, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the newer ones. Coming home. Every one of the sculptures covers everybody affected by war.”
- Four years ago, in the foothill community of Lincoln, veteran Marine Richard Martinez re-energized a group of veterans who wanted to build a war memorial. Memorial Day services involved a procession to each of the town’s four cemeteries, said Don Witt, who heads the Placer County Veterans Monument group. They still do, because the monument includes names of living veterans as well as those who died serving.
Martinez died before construction of the monument could be completed. It was dedicated in 2021. Among the names on its walls— 23-year-old Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee of Roseville, the Marine who was killed as U.S. forces pulled out of Afghanistan in August 2021.
- Further south in the Sierra foothills, the El Dorado County Veterans Monument in Placerville stands alongside the county’s administration building. Dedicated in 2006, the monument is located next to the SSgt. Sky Mote Overpass, named for a Marine from El Dorado County who was killed in Afghanistan in 2012.
- The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial near Concord remembers the 320 sailors and civilians killed in the July 17, 1944, explosion. It represented the largest domestic loss of life during World War II. The majority of those killed were African-American who were loading ordnance onto ships when the ammunition and bombs exploded.
- In the city of Atascadero, the Faces of Freedom sculpture stands in front of Heroes Wall, which bears the names of 231 San Luis Obispo County residents who died in various wars. A veterans-led local group in 2006 formed a foundation and raised more than $250,000, all in private donations, to build the memorial that opened in 2008, said board member Andrea Greenaway. Her husband, Mark, sculpted the bronze statues. They, too, held fundraisers including selling bricks bearing the names of active service members, veterans, or sponsors.
“It was community members coming together,” Andrea Greenaway said. “Our veterans are very patriotic.”
- In the Riverside County city of Temecula, residents built a beautiful multi-faceted memorial at the city’s Duck Pond park. The death of Marine Staff Sergeant and Temecula resident Louis Cardin, killed in Northern Iraq while fighting ISIS in 2016, inspired the community to build its memorial. It joined the Letters Home Memorial and Path of Honor, also at Duck Pond, and was dedicated in 2018.
- And finally, the city of Solvang, a Danish enclave in Santa Barbara County, did what most do when it designed its war memorial downtown.
“We designed it to leave space for more names,” said David Packard, Solvang’s assistant city manager. “There will be more tragedy.”
So, this Memorial Day – or any time for that matter – consider taking a moment to visit a memorial or monument, and pay respects to those who died defending this nation. Wherever you are in California, one won’t be hard to find.
CalVet is creating a photo gallery of war memorials and monuments throughout the state. Please email photos of ones in your community to PAO@Calvet.ca.gov.