Thursday, June 2, 2011

Memorial Day 2011 in California

Warning: this is a LONG blog.

I am finally sitting down to tell ya'll about my trip to California.

After a delay in LAX I finally made it to Sacramento. I see my sister and start talking about getting my bags when suddenly I see my little brother standing next to me. He didn't tell us he was arriving and I had wondered about all his text messages to me wanting details on my flight information throughout the day... but I was incredibly thrilled to see him. To be honest, I didn't think I'd see him until the day he is to leave for Afghanistan.

So, yeah, he's standing there and I totally scream out of excitement and hug him so tight it's like he'll pop in my arms! Everybody turns and stares at me. But, he's wearing his Army bag so they probably all figured he was returning or something like that.

We get to my sister's place and sleep.

Saturday we hang out in the morning and then we all gallavant off to her church where her rehearsal commenses and she shows off my daughter and introduces us to friends. We spend some time at the memorial and I get a name rubbing for a friend. At some point there is also brief shopping. I should also add that I got some In-N-Out Burger to eat. That evening my parents arrived.

caught him sleeping!

Sunday was the BIG day. We all got up and dressed for church. It is requested that if you are military you wear your uniform so, of course, my brother came in his ACUs. We head out to the church and meet up with my aunt, uncle and their daughters who came up for the performance and to see us as well.

Now, I had been hearing about the performance Calvary Christian Center puts on every year. How it is amazing. It is powerful. It is emotional. So, to be honest, my expectations were pretty high. Since my brother was present, I got to sit in priority seating. Any military member has priority seating (center) and they can bring one guest. Dad took mom and Mike took me. Man, were those pews PACKED! They do 3 shows so as to support the amount of people that attend.

When you come in you see a replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a replica of several panals of the Vietnam War Memorial, a hospital set up similiar to M.A.S.H., and a large American Flag hanging center stage. Of course I can't show you photos because the performance is copyrighted and I don't feel like having any legal battles for breaking the law.

Once I was settled in and took in the set up I had to break for a moment and tell myself that it is possible I had this whole thing really built up in my mind and it can let me down.

It didn't.

It is now I wish I had more eloquent writing to describe the show.

To begin they have some video in honor of the different wars and veterans who fought. Then the scene begins with one of the soldiers in the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier. It was a moving monologue. I might add that every scene throughout the performance have correct period attire and uniforms on. And though this is taking place in church, they want things to be as realistic as possible, so there is some bad language and "mature content".

Then, one of the most emotional parts to me... they raise the flag that is hanging center stage to reveal 5 memorials of the boots/rifle/helmet/dogtags common to those who we've lost. There is also a man in full uniform who then plays taps. It was very moving.

At some point the pastor gets up and introduces certain people like special guests, speakers, a Gold Star mother, sister and grandmother. One of people introduced was Ngan Nguyen, one of the last, if not the last, evacuee during the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam War. What was even more interesting is that later on I met an old Marine who told me he was the man who put her on the helicopter and 3 hours later almost died when he was blown up (he showed us the scars on his head). Fascinating stuff!

Pastor Ciociola then begins to recognize the veterans present starting with those who are currently serving and goes back naming all conflicts; Desert Storm, Korean War, Vietnam War, World War II (there were no World War I veterans in attendance). At each time the veterans of those wars/conflicts move to the front of the church and stand for all to see. He also acknowledges those who served in peace time.

I was most amazed at the Vietnam veterans. There were so many. And the pastor makes a point to state that they returned with honor, welcomes them home, and apologizes for what the politicians did to those men and women. Tears abounded.

Continuing on with the performance is a story at the M.A.S.H. set. Kind of what life was like. There is even a scene of men traveling through the jungles and then the sounds/lights of battle.

The final scene takes place at the Vietnam War Memorial. There are some monologues of what it means to be there, a son's talk to his dad he never knew and a veteran's memories of the buddies he lost there.

And then the most moving scene: that veteran places his hand on the wall and then back lit there were 3 armed young men behind the wall in a Vietnam Jungle and one places his hand up to the hand of the veteran. Oh, I nearly broke down right there.

You could hear cries and stifled sobs throughout the performance. It was amazing.

I guess that every year scene content is changed so it's not the same exact thing every year.

To conclude, Army Staff Sargeant David Bellavia gave a quick message. He is a Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross Nominee, awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, 3 Army Commendation Medals, 2 Army Achievement Medals, and the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross. He fought in the Battle of Fallujah in 2005 and is the author of House to House: And Epic Memoir of War. I'll probably pick up and read the book... I enjoyed what he had to say.

When all was complete, we walked over to the East Grounds of the church where the Memorial was set up. The memorial has 18 panels and lists the names of the nearly 6000 men and women we have lost in OIF and OEF from October 1, 2001 to April 30, 2011. The names are engraved on the panels and there is a master list available for those who are looking for a specific name for a rubbing. There is also a 9/11 Monument Fountain, flags to represent each state, and a set up of the boots/rifle/helmet/dogtags.

It really is surprising to see how many we have lost in the last nearly 10 years. And then I stop and think that in WWII we would lose this many in less than a week's time.

I had dressed Alanna adorably for this occassion. I got her dress from a lady on Etsy who is now stationed in Texas: KayleesKloset. Cute stuff. Alanna wandered the path of the memorial hugging random people.
Uncle Mike with Alanna

me and my baby

Aunt Retta with Alanna

Dad, Me, Retta, Mom, Mike and Alanna

Later that evening we returned to the church for the USO show. Since the morning is so heavy and emotional the evening show is very funny and entertaining. My brother was asked to jump in last minute to play trumpet for one of the pieces. My sister was two of the fish for another sketch with Bin Laden singing about being fish food at the bottom of the sea. There was funny jokes about politics, Justin Bieber, Obama. There were sketches/songs with Lucielle Ball, Prince William and Kate, Judy Garland. The people were talented and it was very entertaining.

Retta and her friend Charles

Alanna and I

Mike playing trumpet for "I Love You Baby"

not the best pic but Retta's two fish are below the American flag, just to the right of Bin Laden.

Alright. Monday.

Monday I went with my mom and dad out to gold country. We went to the town of Sutter and wandered main street. Not much there.

Eventually we made our way to Volcano. It was a neat little town with lots of historical buildings. We wandered around there then headed back to my sister's place. That evening her and I went to dinner.

EARLY Tuesday morning, like before 4 am, we headed back to Albuquerque. Another delay in Denver and we finally made it home. I'm still recovering from my lack of sleep.

I will say that this was one Memorial Day Weekend where I actually felt like I honored our veterans and remembered why we celebrate such a day.

And if you're still reading this, Thanks for making it through. Perhaps you can attend next year. And please ignore the typos.



  1. Hi there :) I just found my "followers" & wanted to take a peek to follow you back! I LOVE your daughter's camo dress! I'm not normally a camo fan but that dress is adorable!

  2. I'm so glad that you were able to go! That is so awesome that your brother surprised you! :D I'm so glad you got to see him and spend time with him.

    Alanna's dress is so adorable! I might have mentioned this before . . . :)

    I told Mike about the event the church puts on every year and we hope to go out next year with you guys! :)