Claremont honors fallen heroes on Memorial Day
Like a sign from above, the grey morning gave way to sunshine just as the crowd began to gather for the annual Memorial Day observance on Monday at Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont.
Although Memorial Day has long been about honoring those who died while serving in the military, Robert Ainsworh, the new commander of American Legion Keith Powell Post 78, invited the crowd to thank the veterans in attendance and in particular those who served during World War II.
Two such veterans, longtime Claremont resident Chuck Farritor and San Dimas resident June Sullivan, were honored with a standing ovation while the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps from Lutheran High School posted the colors.
The service, which was organized by the American Legion and the City of Claremont, followed a traditional format including the National Anthem, speeches, a moment of silence, music and placing tributes.
During his keynote address Lieutenant Colonel Evan Wollen also recognized the World War II vets, noting that 1800 die every day. He asked rhetorically if anyone had seen a veteran with a baseball cap emblazoned with the name of a regiment or a pin from a long forgotten battle and offered a challenge: “Do not walk past one of those men ever again without shaking their hand and asking about their story.”
Former Claremont resident and business owner Tony Federico, 92, is one of those men. The Brooklyn native served in an Army anti-aircraft artillery unit fighting in North Africa before joining the invasion of Italy. His unit then advanced to France where they participated in the battle of Normandy, which supported the D-Day amphibious invasion. He was a particular asset to his unit in Italy because he could speak Italian.
He now resides in La Verne but lived in Claremont for 45 years and owned Federico’s Italian Deli in the Village for 15 years.
A fond memory of his time in Italy was the time he visited Pozzuoli, near Naples, where very young Sophia Loren serenaded him.
Claremont Mayor Sam Pedroza and Friends of the Oak Park Cemetery President Nelson Scherer also spoke during the ceremony.
Bagpiper Mike Terry, who has participated for many years, played the Scottish Lament as local service organizations laid flowers at the foot of the flagpole, before the service concluded with “taps” played by bugler Steve Collins.
Ms. Sullivan was delighted at the recognition she received following the service as a line of well-wishers queued up seeking to shake her hand.
“All of a sudden we were at war,” she said of her decision to join the Women’s Army Corps. “I had nothing more important to do, so I said, ‘why not?’”
She first served as a medic in Hot Springs Arkansas, but later was asked to join the United Service Organization because of her experience as a professional dancer. During two tours of Europe she entertained the troops dancing to the popular music of the era. USO shows were full of celebrities but she said that meeting bandleader Tommy Dorsey was the highlight.
As people began to disperse, Mr. Federico said goodbye to Mr. Farritor, and headed for his ride home. “I come to Memorial Day every year,” said Mr. Federico, “my wife is [buried] here, and one day I will be with her.”