As people from Lodi and the surrounding area took their seats at Cherokee Memorial Park & Funeral Home on Monday morning, the ground was covered with thousands of American flags in honor of the men and women of the U.S. military who gave their lives in service to their country.

“It’s a blessing to see all the patriotic citizens here from the Lodi-Stockton area,” said Danny Stanley, sales director for Cherokee Memorial.

After the Stockton Portsmen Chorus performed a medley of patriotic songs, Stanley asked the active duty members of the military to stand for applause before inviting veterans of every armed conflict from World War II up to Operation Enduring Freedom to do the same.

“It’s great to see all of you this morning,” Stanley said. “I’m grateful that we’re able to give you the applause you deserve.”

Pastor Perry Kallis of Grace Point Church gave an invocation, praying for the fallen troops before the presentation of colors, National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance.

Stanley then introduced the ceremony’s speaker: Lt. Cmdr. Buster T. Williams of the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps.

A native Lodian, Williams stood before the crowd dressed in a dark suit and expressed his gratitude for Walmart being open at 2 a.m. after his flight from Hawaii.

“I had every intention of being here in my dress whites, but Hawaiian Airlines had other intentions,” Williams said.

After sharing a brief chuckle with the crowd, Williams reminded them of Memorial Day’s more somber purpose: Remembering the men and women of the U.S. armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

“They didn’t sign up to die, but they were willing to die,” Williams said.

Williams spoke of the sacrifices made not only by the service members who gave their lives, but those made by the loved ones they leave behind as well. He emphasized the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect, and of caring for veterans who return from war with both physical and psychological scars.

“We don’t leave our brothers behind,” Williams said. “Sometimes, they feel left behind and they’re walking among us. That’s my concern.”

Following Williams’ speech, Stanley introduced the various groups who performed the traditional wreath-laying: American Legion Post 22 and Auxiliary, Disabled American Veterans, the Delta POW Chapter consisting of former prisoners of war, the Stockton Marine Corps Club and Gold Star Families — the families of fallen soldiers.

“These are the families that have sacrificed,” Stanley said. “They know what the sacrifice is about.”

The Stockton Portsmen Chorus sang “God Bless America” before a dove release, and the ceremony ended with a missing man formation fly-by by the Patriotic Flyers.

Cherokee Memorial Park & Funeral Home was not the only venue to host a Memorial Day service over the three-day weekend.

Micke Grove Regional Park held its own service on Saturday, featuring a color guard presentation and gun salute by American Legion - Karl Ross Post 16.

Colleen Lazzarini of Novato visited the event with husband, Rich.

“My dad was in World War II” Lazzarini said, speaking of her father, Mel Androus, who started out as a bombardier and ended his military service as a pilot. Her father made it back to the United States after his service. “He was lucky,” she said.

“This is a nice memorial,” she said after reading the memorial bricks of the fallen.

Edith Spencer, dressed in patriotic red, white and blue, drove up from Stockton to watch the gun salute. She said she heard about the upcoming event on the TV news.

“I stopped in my tracks, I wanted to show up,” she said. “I like the memorial, I am very impressed.”

News-Sentinel Chief Photographer Bea Ahbeck contributed to this report.

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