While for some, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, the true meaning of the holiday resonates deeper for those with ties to the military.
In a town like San Diego, home to more than a half-dozen military bases, Memorial Day is a day to honor the military service members who died while serving their country. And, the moment the first sunbeam hit San Diego, locals were paying tribute.
At Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, San Diego leaders and military veterans laid 11 wreaths just as the sun was coming up Monday. The event organized by the Truman National Security Project has been held at sunrise on Memorial Day since 2015. Each year, volunteers lay thousands of roses on the graves at the federal military cemetery in honor of the fallen.
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On Mount Soledad, an annual ceremony highlights the lives lost in duty, like Major Megan McClung, the first female Marine killed in the Iraq war in 2006. A plaque honoring her service is now hung along with hundreds of others on the memorial at Mount Soledad.
"She was an extraordinary young woman. She died at 34. She was my hero. She was my hero," her mother, Re McClung, said at the ceremony.
The Camp Pendleton-based Marine came from a military family, both of her grandfathers and her father served in the armed forces.
McClung was a public affairs officer serving in Ramadi, Iraq. She was riding in a convoy escorting journalists when an improvised explosive device struck their vehicle.
"And although nothing I can ever say will fill the hole she’s left in your heart, I hope you can take some comfort knowing Megan did make a real difference, and died doing what she believed in," Maj. McClung's commanding officer, U.S. Army Lt. General Sean MacFarland, said.
McClung is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia with her motto engraved on her tombstone: Be Bold. Be Brief. Be Gone.
For those who want to pay tribute to fallen service members, the USS Midway has organized a virtual Remembrance Wall, which puts faces to the stark number of service members who have died in service since World War I -- 645,000, according to the museum.People who have lost a loved one can submit their own photo to the Remembrance Wall here.
The USS Midway Museum has had a week of commemorative events for the holiday, both online and in person, which culminated Monday with a Memorial Day wreath ceremony onboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier.
Outside the museum, a veterans group has set up a tribute to the nearly 300 service members who have died during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans For Peace invites locals to stop by and read their names.
In North County San Diego, an 11,000 square foot American flag was painted on a hillside above the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista. The flag was unveiled Monday morning and events to honor the fallen will be held all day, including a fly-by ceremony by two retired Army pilots in military Warbirds.
The nation will collectively take a pause at 3 p.m. PDT. The National Moment of Remembrance asks Americans to observe a moment of silence to honor the fallen.
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