Military veterans, their families and grateful members of the community shared stories and paid tribute to fallen service men and women at Memorial Day ceremonies at Veteran's Park on Monday morning.
Both the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 5477 held barbecues afterward with the family and friends of veterans of World War II, Vietnam and Desert Storm, among other wars.
Approximately 175 people came to the ceremony to pay tribute, observe a 21-gun salute by the 82nd Airborne Honor Detail and listen to FRA Branch 289 Chaplain Don Kelly.
“Taps” was played by members of the band, said Brad Lukens, FRA Branch 289 first vice president.
Flowers brought to the ceremony were transferred to a Navy helicopter squadron at Naval Base Coronado to be taken out to sea.
The names of service men and women lost in 2011 were read, and a bell was tolled by retired Navy “Frogman” Michael Hick, according to Lukens.
The ceremony was organized by the FRA Branch 289 and sponsored by VFW Post 5477, the American Legion Post 820 and the city of Imperial Beach.
Guest speaker Gunnery Sgt. Nick Popaditch, a retired Marine, talked about the battle of Fallujah, where he was seriously injured by a grenade that was tossed through the open door of his tank.
"He spoke about the guys that saved his life, not so much what he did," Lukens said.
Though the grenade exploded near Popaditch's head, rendering him legally blind and partially deaf, he ran for Congress last fall after a medical retirement and received the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
World War II veteran Wayne Carr, 61, is a retired Navy master chief, and at the barbecue after the ceremony remembered working “in a submarine squadron hunting Germans” off the coast of Venezuela in 1944.
After the aviation mechanic retired, he moved to IB at a time “when there wasn't a stoplight in town,” he said. “I loved the Navy.”
Chief Petty Officer Bill Prout said, “I should have paid [the Navy] to stay in the service.”
After 33 years as a jet mechanic, Prout believes that “without the insurance of a good armed forces, this country couldn't exist.”
That insurance comes at a high but necessary price, he said.
Paul Hanson, a former Marine and second vice president of Branch 289, recalled entering Iraq via an amphibious vehicle during Desert Storm.
“During the day you couldn't see 50 feet above your head,” said Hanson of the midday black-out conditions caused by smoke from burning oil fields nearby. His location was undisclosed.
After the barbecue, Hanson left to deliver floral tributes at sea in honor of fallen comrades.