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2009 Memorial Day Rally Report!

by SofS Staff - June 2, 2009

A recap of our activities in Washington, D.C., May 23-25

The following is a short summary of our successful Memorial Day Rally weekend (May 23-25, 2009).  More articles, reflections, and images will be coming soon, but in the meantime, we invite you to explore the short summary below!


Our contingents began arriving during the week, with our groups from from Gilroy, CA, Florida and Hawaii coming in early to do some extra DC sightseeing.  By Friday night, they had been joined by our Bay Area and Southern CA contingents and our group from New York City.  Everyone survived their various travel odysseys and were ready to go!

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Stories of Service Bootcamp
Our official activities began on Saturday morning with a special training and orientation workshop.  Attendees from different parts of the country got to know each other through icebreaking and team-building exercises, which were rolled into an overall orientation, skills review and a "Digital Story Fire Drill" exercise.  The work session included new partipants from the local area, including representatives from the Civil Air Patrol, Young Marines and the Navy Memorial.  As part of the training, our team studied one of our classic stories, Al Tortolano's "Italian Nisei" (see it here), and worked on a production exercise that used Denny Weisgerber's story, " " (see it here)  After the workshop, our team began preparations for the evening activities.

Gold Star Reception

At 6:00 PM, we welcomed guests to our Gold Star reception, hosted by our Gold Star families in cooperation with the White House Commission on Remembrance.  During the reception, Carmela Laspada, head of the Commision, spoke about her office's mission, and showed a preview of a video promoting the National Moment of Remembrance -- a moment of silence at 3:00 PM on Memorial Day.  This video was played on Memorial Day around the country, including at Major League Baseball games in cities across America.

Carmela also introduced a new recognition pin, based on the Commission's Gold Medal (given to children of the fallen) that will be awarded to family members who had lost someone in service, as well as to those who work to serve and support these families.  The reception concluded with the playing of "Our Fallen Warrior," the story of Travis Layfield as told by his mother Diane (see it here).

Legacy of Service Banquet

After the reception, guests moved into the ballroom for dinner.  The after-dinner presentation was a "journey of service" using the Digital Stories of our youth producers to tell the stories of each era of service, going backwards in time from Iraq to World War II.  The first movie shown was "A Knock on the Door", the story of Adam Estep as told by his family. (see it here).  Following the movie, Ken Estep took the podium for a moving speech about his son and his own experiences sharing Adam's story. 

The Vietnam era was represented by "The Ones We Left Behind", the story of Cesar Lorenzo (see it here).  After Cesar's video, Carmela Laspada from the White House Commission on Remembrance spoke of how the experiences of the men of the Vietnam era inspired her to begin her life of advocacy.

The Korean War  segment was highlighted by "No Marine Left Behind", by Denny Weisgerber (see it here).  Stories of Service National Youth Director Robert Corpus spoke about Denny's leadership and commitment to the program.

Our journey finally brought us to the World War II era, and the presentation of our special awards.  The Stan Harris Memorial Award for the best Air Force story was introduced by Richelle Harris (no relation) and Janice Edwards, with Stan's family in attendance. (see Stan's Story).  The Jack Thatcher/Ed Kohn Navy Award was introduced by Robert Corpus and Warren Hegg, in honor of two of our "Founding Fathers" (see Jack's story | see Ed's story).  Jerry
Yellin introduced Tommy Begley's story (produced by his sister Lavada Begley Petersen) and the Marine Corps Award by sharing his own experiences as a P-51 pilot flying over Iwo Jima. (see Tommy's story | see Jerry's story). 

The evening concluded with a series of special award presentations.  Darren Yafai from Gilroy High School received the Teacher of the Year award for his work to mobilize 160 students to participate in Stories of Service.  Candy Suiso's Waianae Seariders from Hawaii received the first Rudy K. Tokiwa Japanese-American in Service award for their amazing project about Eddie Ichiyama's experiences (See Eddie's Story | See Rudy's Story).   Finally Zoe Randall's class from the High Tech Middle Media Arts school received the Peter Almendarez Spirit Award in honor of their commitment to honoring the legacy of those who served.

We would like to thank all who joined us for the banquet, including Jim Roberts and Tim Holbert from the National Memorial Day Parade, Cathy Dugan from the Navy, Mike Lowe and his guests from U-Haul, and all others in attendance!

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Sunday was our day of commemoriation and remembrance, featuring visits to Memorials in Washington and Arlington.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Our first visit was to "The Wall" honoring the fallen from Vietnam.  Our group was led by and honor guard of Vietnam Veteran and JROTC Instructor Bob Skibar and his cadets from the High School of Graphic Communiations Arts in NYC(also Stories of Service producers).  Cang Le and Kym Brady, our honorary presenters, led the rest of the group in laying flowers at the foot of the wall, next to a special plaque placed by Bob and the JROTC cadets.

After our ceremonial presentation, our JROTC NYC youth carried out ten pushups with the Memorial in the background, kicking off their 2009-2010 effort to collectively perform 58,253 push-ups -- one for each name on The Wall.  This tribute, originated by Bob's JROTC unit, is now being performed by units across the country.  After the NYC contigent had completed the first 10, they were joined by other Stories of Service youth -- and World War II veteran Jerry Yellin! for a second set of ten!   

Korean War Memorial

Following the visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, our group walked across the National Mall to the Korean  War Memorial.  Our contingent for this ceremony was led by James Chen, whose grandfather had fought in the ROK (Republic of Korea) as an America ally.  As we departed the Memorial, our group invited individuals to join us in the Memorial Day Parade and Call to Service rally the following day.

Arlington National Cemetery
Our group divided into two contingents; one which went to Arlington National Cemetery, and the other which traveled to the Marine Corps Memorial. 

The group at Arlington included youth from Gilroy, Hawaii, San Diego, and Silicon Valley.  This contingent attended the wreath laying ceremony of the Japanese American Veterans Associtation at the Tomb of the Unknowns and watched the formal changing of the guard.

At Arlington, a Stories of Service delegation paid their respects to Stories of Service Senior Advisor and Mentor Peter Radonich, and called his widow Janet Radonich, continuing a tradition begun at last year's Memorial Day Weekend. 

Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima Statue)

Our Marine Corps Memorial group, in collaboration with the Young Marines, held a special presentation honoring the stories of Marines of all eras, and announcing a special effort to capture Marine stories in 2009-2010. 

A joint Young Marine honor guard and Navy JROTC color guard stood at attention while Young Marine Casey Scott presented a "declamation" in which he performed a monologue as James Bradley, author of "Flags of our Fathers" and son of Navy Corpsman  John Bradley, one of the flag raisers depicted in the famous photograph and statue. 

Skip Adams, who served on Iwo Jima, and Jerry Yellin, who flew air support missions for the Marines on the ground, also spoke, as well as Young Marine National Deputy Director Don Shanks. (see Skip's story)

Sunday Evening

The group had "down time" on Sunday evening to explore D.C. and prepare for the next day's activities. 

A special welcoming committee greeting our National Spokesperson Ernest Borgnine as he arrived from California to attend the Parade and our Rally. 

A group of our senior veterans and Gold Star family members received VIP tickets to the National Memorial Day Concert on the lawn of the Capitol, where they enjoyed an evening of inspiring and patriotic music and had the opportunity to meet with other special guests and dignitaries.

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WWII Memorial Rededication
In the morning, our National Program Supervisor Warren Hegg attended the re-dedication of the National World War II Memorial, hosted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial.  We will be working with them in support of their mission, and look forward to developing this partnership!



Navy Memorial Ceremony

At 10:00 AM, our group supported the official Memorial Day ceremonies at the U.S. Navy Memorial.  

Edith Shain, Ernest Borgnine  and Robert Corpus represented us in the official party, with the rest of our group participants standing by carrying poster-sized images of Navy veterans and NYC JROTC cadets standing as part of the ceremonial guard. 

Robert led the group in the pledge of allegiance, and Mr. Borgine inspired the crowd with his memories and reflections on his own service (1935-1945).  

The ceremony concluded with a wreath-laying, followed by the laying of flowers by the official party and members of our group.

National Memorial Day Parade

Finally, our group assembled for the National Memorial Day Parade!  At 2:00, the parade began.  Soon afterwards, our group stepped off, and began our march down Constitution Avenue, in front of over 300,000 spectators.

Our contingent was led by our national spokesperson and Honorary Parade Marshal Ernest Borgnine, riding in a 1948 Cadillac Convertible and escorted by our Navy JROTC cadets.

Next came our Stories of Service U-Haul truck,decorated with signage inviting the crowd to join us for a special Memorial Day Call to Service at the National World War II Memorial after the parade (see below).

Following the truck, our other national spokesperson and Honorary Parade Marshal Edith Shain greeted the crowd from a vintage 1963 Buick Convertible.  Edith was followed by a car carrying our Gold Star families, which led our contingent of "Legacy Walkers" - youth producers, adult volunteers and other supporters who carried posters with the images of our senior veterans in uniform and young men who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.  As our group passed the reviewing stand, on the command "Eyes Left!", they presented the posters of their veterans to the dignitaries and special guests.

Memorial Day Call to Service

Our group exited the parade on 17th Street and assemble at the National World War II Memorial for a special rally to urge Americans to pledge to honor the sacrifice of America's fallen heroes, and the service of all veterans, through their own service to our nation and their communities.

At the Rally, Ernest Borgnine encouraged the public to support veterans of all eras, particularly by volunteering at the VA and with other groups who serve our veterans and their families.

His words were echoed by Edith Shain, who reminded the crowd of how her generation came together to meet the challenges of the Great Depression, World War II, and the rebuilding of the post-war world.  She concluded by urging Americans to "Keep the spirit of '45 alive!"

Our formal activities concluded with a musical performance by the Albany Falcons Marching Band, and our group began disbanding to prepare for the long journey home.  We all left D.C. exhausted but proud of our accomplishments, and motivated to continue our work in preparation for next year's Rally!

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