As the color guard’s three shots were fired and the somber sound of taps played, some onlookers at Sunday’s memorial service wept at the Bakersfield National Cemetery.
The cemetery hosted a ceremony Sunday in honor of the American soldiers who have died in the line of duty. An estimated 1,000 people attended the Memorial Day event.
An additional estimated 200 people attended the ceremony Remembering Our Fallen Kern County Heroes at the Wall of Valor in downtown Bakersfield.
The keynote speaker at the cemetery was U.S. Navy Reserve Cmdr. Mike Grover, who wore a camouflage uniform at the podium.
Before he began speaking, Grover walked to the podium and removed his unit number, his name tag and his rank from his uniform.
He put on the full face mask, gloves and eye protection that servicemembers wear. No skin was left visible, but the American flag on his uniform remained.
Grover told onlookers the uniform means his race, his religion, his sexual orientation and anything else that builds barriers in society was gone.
“This camouflage draws attention away from me,” Grover said.
Instead, it unites warriors.
Doris Fennell, of Bakersfield, attended the ceremony at the cemetery where her husband, Bruce, is buried.
He served in the Army from 1958 to 1961.
“We come every year,” Fennell said. “He would have liked it because I know he was proud to serve.”
Fennell admitted that her husband would likely have shed tears on Memorial Day.
Bakersfield National Cemetery has more than 3,000 veterans buried on the grounds.
Tom Pasek, president of the Bakersfield National Cemetery Support Committee, said Memorial Day is the opportunity to honor fallen heroes, unlike Veterans Day which commemorates all military personnel.
“This is our one day of the year to recognize veterans who are decreased,” Pasek said.
Dean Cupp’s grandfather, Gerald Moore, was buried in the cemetery last year. He was a member of the U.S. Air Force.
“It’s important to remember all of those fallen soldiers,” said Cupp, 16.
Former Congressman Bill Thomas spoke at the cemetery, noting the hardships servicemembers have.
“Freedom isn’t free, and we’re here to honor those that have paid for it,” said Thomas.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, served as keynote speaker at the Wall of Valor memorial.
He spoke of the warriors who gave their lives for both America and Kern County.
“They believed in something bigger than themselves. (They believed in) the country itself,” McCarthy said. “... In every war, every battle and every conflict, someone from this community rose up.”
In the last 10 years, 23 Kern County servicemembers have died in the line of duty.
David “Fletch” Fletcher, 68, attended the Wall of Valor’s memorial service as a part of the motorcycle salute with other American Legion Riders of Chapter 26. He rode in on his orange Gold Wing motorcycle, along with a line of about a dozen other veteran riders.
Fletcher served three tours of duty during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1968. He hopes people remember the sacrifices servicemembers make.
“They have basically signed their life away to protect our freedom,” he said.