Although the weather was chillier than usual, and a worldwide helium shortage prevented the traditional balloon release, Kern County residents still showed up at Historic Union Cemetery on Monday to honor the nation’s veterans.

“Today is a solemn day when we remember the men and women who died defending us,” Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, said during a ceremony at the cemetery Monday morning.

Dozens of people showed up to the cemetery as part of Bakersfield’s Memorial Day tradition.

“With each war and battle that progressed, the uniqueness of Kern County is that we do not forget,” said U.S. Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. “The uniqueness of Kern County is that we honor (veterans). But it should not just be on a weekend. I take great pride in the idea of what Kern County does throughout the year. Every year we grow with the idea of honoring these men and women more.”

This year’s Memorial Day took place near the 75th anniversary of D-Day. McCarthy said he would fly to Normandy in France to commemorate the occasion with other members of Congress.

In Bakersfield, the occasion was marked by surprise speaker and local resident Bill Glaspie, who served in the U.S. Army during the invasion of France that began with D-Day.

His unit protected tanks from air attacks.

“This is a special Memorial Day,” Glaspie said before noting the cool weather. “If I could ask the Lord one thing, I’d say ‘God, can you warm it up just a little bit?’”

He said he never suffered “a scratch” during his service in World War II. However, one night, Glaspie said, he left his boots on top of a foxhole when his squad was attacked.

After the attack, he discovered his boots had been torn up with shrapnel. The experience, if nothing else, allowed him to receive a new pair of boots, he said.

“We went on into France and Germany, and I got a two-day pass into Paris, and it was so torn up then, that it wasn’t much of a pass,” he said.

On a day meant to remember veterans who gave their lives in service to the country, some noted the smaller attendance at the observance than in previous years.

For Larry Romero, a Korean War veteran with 30 years of service, and a member of the Associated Veteran’s of Bakersfield Honor Guard, the turnout disappointed him.

“It is a shame that we have less than a hundred people here to come and see the cemetery,” he said. “There should be people walking all over the graves, tracing the names of these people that are heroes.”

He noted that the population of Bakersfield is growing, but attendance at Memorial Day events is not.

“People have to realize that Memorial Day is not just a holiday so you can go on a picnic and celebrate,” he added. “On Memorial Day, they give you a day off to come and visit your departed.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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