Valley Memorial Day ceremonies honor those who died in war (video)

The Fresno BeeMay 26, 2014 

Hundreds of tiny American flags waved in the breeze Monday during Memorial Day observances around the Valley to remember those who fought and died in America's wars.

In Clovis, three gold stars were added to a memorial wall. In Fresno, a plaque was added to Courthouse Park to honor a Hmong general who fought alongside Americans.

But the fallen wouldn't be remembered without those who survived the battles to carry home the memories of their fallen comrades.

During a morning ceremony at Liberty Veterans Cemetery in central Fresno, more than 150 people gathered to remember the fallen at the only veterans cemetery between Bakersfield and Santa Nella. The cemetery has been used to bury local war dead since the Civil War.

"The true heroes are the ones that lie before us and didn't come home," said Bob Small, post commander for American Legion Post 4, which was among the hosts of the Liberty Veterans Cemetery observance.

There are open areas of the veterans cemetery that were filled without markers, Small said.

Local veterans are spearheading a project, he said, to learn names of potentially hundreds of dead in the cemetery whose graves are unmarked.

The veterans hope to install markers to recognize their sacrifice.

Other sacrifices were witnessed, but not publicized.

Speaking at the Liberty Veterans Cemetery, former Marine Cpl. Vincent Shuttera, 96, recalled the Battle of Savo Island in the South Pacific during World War II, which carried with it a casualty list as long as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, nine months earlier.

It was a "secret battle," Shuttera continued, "a disaster."

"They wanted to keep it quiet from the American public ... until they had some good news to report," he said.

Lost ashes

But it's the ones who died who speak volumes about the battles, and some died without interment, said Mike Harris, deputy director of Fresno's Legion of Valor Museum, a retired Fresno police officer and U.S. Army reservist.

One was a local World War II veteran whose identity local veterans are trying to learn.

His ashes were found in Reedley at an abandoned mini-storage unit and turned over to the Legion of Valor Museum last summer. A photograph and an American flag were nearby the federal urn with ashes dating back to World War II.

Harris said the airman's name was "Charles" and he spent World War II in an Army Air Corps B-24 bomber.

"I have tried to find his next of kin so he can be interred with other veterans," Harris said. "Charles is a patriot and a hero."

American Legion Post 509 in Fresno has given the ashes to the Missing In America Project, which will follow Department of Defense protocol to gather information about Charles, Harris said.

"We haven't made contact with any next of kin," Harris said. "I left messages on a recorder and never got a response back."

Once his identity is confirmed, he will be buried at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella with military honors.

"I would never believe it (the forgotten ashes) was intentional, just one of those things that happens," Harris said.

Adding Gold Stars

In Clovis, the Veterans Memorial District hosted a patriotic concert and named three veterans to its Gold Star wall following a ceremony in the Clovis District Cemetery.

The Gold Star ceremony honors America's war dead from within the boundaries of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, which stretches from Clovis and Fresno County's foothills to Pinedale and parts of northwest Fresno.

Two of the men -- Pvt. Lawrence Liscano and Army Cpl. James F. Martin, Jr. -- died in the Korean War. The third man, Pvt. Marshall H. Martinez, died in World War II.

Martin, 21, of Pinedale, died July 26, 1951, from hostile gunfire in North Korea. He was awarded a Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman's Badge among his six medals. He was buried in the Clovis District Cemetery.

Liscano was a month shy of his 18th birthday when he died in Korea. He had been seriously wounded by an enemy missile at "Heartbreak Ridge" in South Korea and died from his wounds later that day, Sept. 29, 1951.

His family was from Pinedale.

He also earned a Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman's Badge among his six medals. He is buried in Liberty Veterans Cemetery in Fresno.

Martinez, 24, was in the U.S. Army Air Force on Oct. 12, 1944, when a boat he was in sank near Creil, France, and he drowned.

He had been serving in the Army more than two years. He was buried in France.

Martinez's awards were not listed.

A letter to his mother, Monica Perez, dated two months after his death, said military officials no longer considered Martinez among the missing.

"I know the burden of anxiety that has been yours, since he was first reported missing in action and deeply regret the sorrow this later report brings you," wrote Adjutant General J.A. Ulio. "May the thought of his loyal service for his home and country be a source of sustaining comfort."

Vang Pao remembered

The Hmong community also used Memorial Day to commemorate Gen. Vang Pao at downtown Fresno's Courthouse Park with the installation of a plaque.

Courthouse Park is already home to a tree planted in the late military leader's honor.

He commanded a CIA-trained force to fight communists in southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s and was a beloved leader of many Hmong Americans. The general regularly spoke in front of large crowds in Fresno.

The general died in 2011 at age 81.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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