‘I Really Appreciate This Country': San Diegans Honor Fallen Heroes This Memorial Day

San Diegans gathered across the county to honor the nation’s fallen heroes Monday as Memorial Day ceremonies were held throughout the holiday.

In La Jolla, hundreds gathered at the Mt. Soledad National Veterans Memorial for its annual service.

Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson was the keynote speaker. He said “honoring your neighbor” is a great way to remember “those who gave up tomorrow so we could have today.”

At the Mt. Soledad ceremony, a plaque was presented in honor of Doris “Dorie” Miller – a hero during the attack on Pearl Harbor and who received the Navy Cross in 1942. Miller’s family was in attendance Monday from Texas.

The service had a fly over -- with a formation zooming past the towering memorial cross.

In Coronado, a large crowd gathered to recognize each of the branches of the military at Star Park.

Terry Bucklew served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He became choked up when talking about the people who served and gave their lives for their country.

“Without those guys, we wouldn’t have this country, because you have to give a life to save a life,” Bucklew said. “They served a nation of people they didn’t even know -- kind of chokes me up, you know.”

In Kensington, red, white, and blue flooded the streets for the neighborhood’s annual Memorial Day parade.

The community watched as servicemembers, veterans, and civilians alike marched down the streets to honor those who fought and died for this country – some even in decorative floats and decked-out cars.

A marching band also joined in the parade.

“Although I don't have any family members who serve in the military, I do want to show how much I really appreciate this country for all of the opportunities it's given me,” said Jennifer Sotelo, a La Jolla High School marching band member.

Kensingon's tribute parade to fallen heroes has been a tradition for decades. NBC 7's Audra Stafford reports.

The parade has been a tradition in Kensington for more than three decades.

“It's unfortunate that there's not enough people who really remember why those boys and women are out there fighting. To protect us and to protect this way of life. I mean, look at this beautiful day,” said resident Mike Brumley.

Downtown, the USS Midway Museum hosted a dedication to remember those killed fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The organization Veterans for Peace created headstones for local servicemembers who have died, each with an American flag.

“I watched a lot of my friends die over there (in Vietnam) too, and for the rest of my life, I’m going to be putting up something like this and reading their names,” said Jim Brown with Veterans for Peace.

Veterans are erecting a memorial outside the USS Midway for their fallen comrades in honor of Memorial Day. NBC 7's Liberty Zabala has more.

The organization Operation Gratitude was also at the naval ship making thousands of care packages for local servicemembers and first responders Monday.

“Every day, these men and women put their lives on the line to serve and protect our country and our community. It is really a symbol of what the American people want them to know -- which is they're appreciated,” said Operation Gratitude CEO Kevin Schmiegel.

The packages will be handed out to new recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, just south of the Midway District, as well as police and firefighters across the county.

With cooler temperatures and a rainy weekend, fewer crowds headed to San Diego beaches this Memorial Day. NBC 7's Joe Little has more.

In Mission Bay, not as many families headed to the beach this holiday weekend, and those who did were surprised by the lack of crowds.

“We thought the crowds were going to be packed, and we wanted to make sure we got a fire pit,” said Ali Willhoite, whose family got up at 3 a.m. to get a good spot.

But when the Ocean Beach family got to Fiesta Island Parks, the found a somewhat remote beach.

Several people who did flock to the coast for Memorial Day told NBC 7 that the recent cold and rainy weather probably kept some families at home.

“Fortunately, today's a beautiful day but the last couple have been a little chilly,” said Mark Gamba from Napa Valley.

Gamba said he came down to San Diego for the historic beautiful weather but was met with something a little different.

“Hopefully though, today we're going to enjoy this beautiful weather,” Gamba said.

Willhoite told NBC 7 the holiday weekend is about spending time with family, whether the sun is out or not.

In Point Loma, a remembrance ceremony was held Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery – but it almost didn’t happen.

The Fort Rosecrans Memorial Day Committee said it was $9,000 in debt and couldn’t host the ceremony. However, volunteers were able to raise the funds in six weeks to save the ceremony.

“When you see the heartbreak and the hollowness in their hearts, it inspires you to try to make this day as special as you possibly can for these people and thank God that people like that gave their life for our freedom,” said Jeff Simonides, a member on the Fort Rosecrans Memorial Day Committee.

Family members of fallen servicemembers were given roses by the committee to honor their loved ones.

Monday marked the 119th Memorial Day ceremony at the national cemetery, which is home to 100,000 graves of servicemembers.

To learn about more remembrance events throughout the county, click here.

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