Sculpture, restored mural unveiled on Memorial Day

An eight-foot bronze sculpture honoring Pasadena-area members of the military killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and battling terrorism was unveiled today at Defenders Park in Pasadena.

Other events marking Memorial Day in Los Angeles County included the unveiling of a restored POW/MIA mural in Venice that had been been vandalized, a parade in Canoga Park and a 24-hour vigil in Boyle Heights.

The Enduring Heroes Memorial depicts a combat solider triumphantly holding the American flag. It was sculpted by Christopher Slatoff, one of Southern California's most prolific sculptors of monumental public art.

The names of the seven U.S. Army soldiers and four Marines from Pasadena, Altadena, La Canada Flintridge and San Marino killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and battling terrorism were inscribed on the memorial.

The installation is the result of efforts by Enduring Heroes, a group of Pasadena-area residents and Gold Star families. "The Enduring Heroes Memorial and dedication will honor these young men and women who stepped into the breach to keep this nation free and independent and who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that freedom," said Ed Blecksmith, a former Marine whose son, J.P. Blecksmith, a Marine Corps second lieutenant, was killed during the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004, and whose name is on the memorial.

J.P. Blecksmith was a San Marino resident who graduated from Flintridge Preparatory School, where he played quarterback and ran track, and the Naval Academy, where he played receiver. The younger Blecksmith was a platoon commander with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force. His awards included the National Defense Service Medal.

"Nothing prepares you for the terrible moment the military officers come to your front door." said Gold Star father, Ed Blecksmith to FOX 11's own Stephanie Stanton. "A piece of your heart is cutout forever.... Each of us think about our child every moment of every day."

Jaynie Studenmund's son Scott - a green beret killed in 2014 is also among the enduring heroes remembered in the sculpture.

"I think my son is present...he's watching. He had a gorgeous smile...he would've said he was just doing his job." said Jaynie Studenmund.

A 5k race bearing his name has been run annually on Independence Day in San Marino since 2005. Proceeds from the race benefit the J.P. Blecksmith Leadership Foundation, which funds a scholarship at Flintridge Prep.

The ceremony at the corner of Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards began at 3 p.m. The keynote address was delivered by Army Lt. Col. David Diamond, the special assistant to Christopher P. Maier, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism.

Other speakers included Ed Blecksmith, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek and Shelley Lowe, Enduring Heroes Steering Committee chairman.

Vandals sprayed a thick sheen of silver paint over most of the names on the Venice POW/MIA mural on May 26, 2016, with four monikers among the names found at the scene, authorities said.

Though most, if not all, of the paint was removed by volunteers before Memorial Day 2016, the mural had no protective anti-graffiti coating so some of the original mural was destroyed in the process.

"Neighbors in Venice and veterans throughout the region were disgusted by the criminal defacement of this mural," said Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice. "It took a focused and inclusive community effort to begin restoring the mural."

The mural was completed in 1991 and includes the names of 2,273 members of the armed forces counted as prisoners of war or missing in action for the Vietnam War. The words "You Are Not Forgotten" are on top of the mural.

What is billed as the Southland's largest annual Memorial Day observance wtook place at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.

The 32nd annual observance included flyovers by a U.S. Navy C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, an Army National Guard Hawkeye helicopter and vintage SNJ-5 and CJ-6A trainer aircraft; a special performance by the 21st Century Skydiving Team; a parade of colors presented by members of the armed forces, veterans groups, police officers, firefighters, K-9 teams and Junior ROTC units; a display of Vietnam era military ambulances; wreath-laying with a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps"; and several musical performances.

The keynote speaker was delivered by U.S. Navy Rear Adm. James S. Bynum, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 9.

Bynum gave the keynote address and reminded the crowd of the importance of honoring veterans fought for our freedom. "A country, an idea with fighting for and when required worth dying for...that's what makes us Americans." said Bynum.

For veterans both young and old, it was a day to reflect. "There's always one moment that gets's always Taps." said Marine, Nicholas Teach. "In a time that we live in today, it is important to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom." said Vietnam veteran Robert Werner. "A freedom owed to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier celebrated its 97th annual Memorial Day Observance. It included a performance by the Downey Calvary Chapel Christian School Choir; a vintage plane flyover; displays of military vehicles; and remembrance trees. Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Marc Breslow delivered the keynote address.

The 70th annual 24-hour Memorial Day Vigil at the war memorial in Cinco Puntos on Cesar E. Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights concluded at 10 a.m. At least one person stood guard throughout the vigil.

Inglewood's 69th annual Memorial Day Service began at 11 a.m. in front of the Memorial Obelisk Monument at Inglewood City Hall. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, delivered the keynote address while military guests also spoke. There was a memorial wreath laying service and the Jackie Robinson Auxiliary Color Guard Unit 252 presented the colors.

Pico Rivera's Memorial Day Ceremony took place at the city's Veterans Monument and included special recognition of all those who served in the Vietnam War. Daniel L. Hernandez was a special guest speaker. He was a Marine Corps sergeant during the Vietnam War, awarded a Silver Star and Purple Heart and shot in the head and back during Operation Utah in 1966 that left 98 Marines dead and 278 wounded.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez celebrated a special outdoor Memorial Day Mass at Good Shepherd Cemetery in Lancaster, honoring men and women who died serving in the U.S. military.

Memorial Day remembrances were also planned for the Forest Lawn memorial parks in the Covina Hills, Glendale, Hollywood Hills and Long Beach.

In his Memorial Day proclamation, President Donald Trump proclaimed Monday as a day of prayer for permanent peace designating 11 a.m. in each time zone as a time during which people may unite in prayer, citing a 1950 joint resolution by Congress.

Trump also asked all Americans to observe the National Moment of Remembrance beginning at 3 p.m. in each time zone under a bill signed into law in 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton.

The Moment of Remembrance is a "way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day," its founder Carmella LaSpada said.

Trump's proclamation also requested governors of all U.S. states and territories and the appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds, and naval vessels throughout nation and in all areas under its jurisdiction and control.

Trump also requested the American public to display the flag at half-staff from their homes until noon Monday. "Memorial Day is our nation's solemn reminder that freedom is never free," Trump declared in his proclamation. "It is a moment of collective reflection on the noble sacrifices of those who gave the last measure of
devotion in service of our ideals and in the defense of our nation.

"On this ceremonious day, we remember the fallen, we pray for a lasting peace among nations and we honor these guardians of our inalienable rights."

What became Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, as Decoration Day, a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead with flowers.

It was established 25 days earlier by Maj. Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of veterans who fought for the Union in the Civil War. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the nation.

By the end of the 19th century, Decoration Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. After World War I, the holiday was changed to honor Americans who died fighting in all wars.

The term Memorial Day was first used in 1882, became more common after World War II and declared the official name by federal law in 1967.

Memorial Day had been observed on May 30, until being moved to the last Monday in May in 1971 under terms of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which became law in 1968.

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