rifle salute

Veterans conduct a rifle salute at Elk Grove’s Veterans Grove during the Memorial Day ceremony.

Veterans and other community members gathered at Elk Grove’s Veterans Grove to honor fallen service members on Memorial Day. They also paid tribute to more than 25 local veterans who passed away since last year.

A bell was rung for each deceased veteran whose name was announced. Brian McGuinness, the commander of Elk Grove’s American Legion Post 233, announced his group lost 15 members.

“Their souls go marching on, sustained by the pride and service in time of war,” he said about the fallen. “Because of them, our lives are free.”

The Legion’s Post 233 along with the Elk Grove Marine Corps League and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2073 organized the first Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Grove. This site neighbors the District56 center, which is the home of Elk Grove’s Veterans Hall that opened in January 2020. Flagpoles that displayed the American flag and all military branch flags were lowered at half-staff at the Veterans Grove.

COVID-19 safety restrictions prompted the cancellation of last year’s Memorial Day event there.

During a recent time of falling COVID-19 cases in Sacramento County, increased vaccinations, and the state’s plans to end the color-coded tier restrictions on June 15, organizers moved forward with an in-person ceremony at the Veterans Grove.

“More than anything else, we finally have the opportunity to get together with other veteran  organizations here in Elk Grove, and we’re able to do a proper ceremony to recognize Memorial Day,” said David Brown, a member of the Marine Corps League and the co-owner of the Dreaming Dog Brewing Company in Elk Grove.

The late morning’s 90-degree heat did not stop Maureen Gabriel, a 102-year-old Navy veteran of World War 2, from attending the ceremony. She hopes to return next year.

“I thought it was fabulous,” she said. “I cried a little bit.”

Her friend, Jane Sabo was surprised to hear Gabriel being announced as a guest of honor.

“You should’ve worn your hat,” she told Gabriel.

Also in attendance was Betty Hall whose son, Army SFC Bryan Hall was killed by a suicide bomber 12 years ago in Iraq. An Elk Grove street was named after him and the Walk to Remember fundraiser was held in his honor for 10 years.

“I’m glad that people really recognize what this day is all about - versus barbecues and beer,” Hall said. “Of course, it’s a really sad day for me personally.”

Dignitaries at the Veterans Grove included Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen, Elk Grove Police Chief Tim Albright, and Cosumnes Fire Chief Felipe Rodriguez. They laid a wreath during the ceremony.

“It’s nice to be able to gather here in-person,” Singh-Allen told the Citizen. “I think that most people are sick of (online) meetings, there’s just more meaning in connecting with our community in-person. I’m honored to be here to honor those who sacrificed for our freedoms.”  

That morning, Albright introduced his son to Mike Retzlaff, the chaplain of VFW Post 2073, and he thanked him and his fellow veterans for ensuring they can enjoy their freedoms.

Retzlaff has been an active member of the Pride of Laguna Creek Lions Club for several years. He told the Citizen about his experience of being wounded in combat during the Vietnam War.

“My service was my duty to my country,” Retzlaff. “What else do you say?”

In his invocation, Pastor Roy Mendez of American Legion Post 233 honored the fallen and their families, as well as the “walking wounded.” He called upon the audience to remember them every day.

“It is also our prayer that we remember their sacrifice and the precious gift of freedom every day, not just once a year.” Mendez said.