The Sweet Adelines chorus sang the national anthem Monday while the American flag was raised in honor of those who have and continue to serve in the U.S. military.
Members of the community held their hands over their hearts and bowed their heads in respect.
“This day is sacred with the almost visible presence of those that served before us,” said Gene Hamill, American Legion commander for Merced Post 83.
More than 350 people showed up Monday morning at the Merced District Cemetery to remember the price many have paid for freedom in the United States.
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“Freedom comes at a huge cost to some families,” said Terri Ramirez, a mother of four U.S. Marines.
Her son, Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua Pickard, was killed in Iraq almost 10 years ago. Ramirez said she went to honor her sons who continue to serve and her son who died.
“It makes me feel better to do something active to honor Joshua’s memory,” Ramirez said. “I want people to know that freedom isn’t free.”
Pickard was raised in Merced and joined the Marines after graduating from Buhach Colony High School. Ramirez said he was the first of her sons to enlist, and his scheduled date to leave for boot camp was one week after Sept. 11, 2001.
Ramirez said he immediately was challenged with the task of entering combat, and Pickard was only 20 years old when he died. She was proud to say that her other sons enlisted after Pickard, understanding and knowing the cost of going into the military.
“I’m a very proud Marine mom,” Ramirez said. “We always honor all of our military.”
Merced native Bernard Ruiz, captain of the Merced American Legion’s honor guard, is in charge of making sure the 21-gun salute is done for every veteran who dies in Merced, including for the ceremony Monday.
His father, siblings and uncles have served in the Army, and he said he has a personal connection to Memorial Day.
“It’s easy for me to understand,” Ruiz said. “The veterans have led the way for me to follow.”
To Ruiz, a ceremony honoring those who have died and those who continue to fight means a lot, especially because he lost his uncle in World War II.
“Whether families are here or not, they still get recognized,” Ruiz said.
He said anyone who takes the time to reflect on this day will understand why it is important to remember the veterans who fought for the country.
“They can’t forget the sacrifice veterans have done for their freedom,” Ruiz said.
Hamill said joining the Air Force helped him develop a strong sense of discipline during his four years in security police.
“It helped me see the world on a bigger scope,” Hamill said.
He was able to recognize that Merced is such a small part of what goes on in the world, and sometimes people take for granted the opportunities that are available to them in the United States.
“I have a real appreciation for this country,” Hamill said. “All of these crosses represent somebody who died protecting our freedom.”