Terri Pickard and Jennifer Tyson shared a hug and a moment few could relate to. Pickard's son Joshua died in Iraq in December 2006 and Tyson lost her son, Michael Anderson Jr., more than three years ago. Both were Marines.
"It never goes away," said Pickard of losing her son. "It's still every bit as heart-wrenching."
Tyson nodded and added, "It just opens the wound all over again."
Pickard had placed a wreath representing Gold Star mothers just moments before, during Memorial Day weekend services at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery near Santa Nella.
There also were church observances in the area Sunday. More than 800 people took part in events at River Ranch Church in Modesto. Ceremonies are scheduled across the valley today.
An early morning drizzle delayed but did not deter a devoted audience of close to 700 people at the national cemetery. Many came for private grief and to offer public honor to those who served and sacrificed for flag and freedom.
Dennis Martinez, 51, of Merced came for his father, Joe Martinez, and for his uncle.
"Dad was in the Army in World War II in the Pacific," he said. "My uncle Lester was a Marine and died at Tarawa. He was buried at sea.
"It's a great day to honor all of our Americans who gave their lives to serve the country and this flag," Martinez said.
Marsha Borrelli Silva of Gustine attended her 16th ceremony and sang for the 15th time.
Surveying the drizzle at 9 a.m. she said, "It's been windy. It's been hot. This is the first time it's rained. ... I guess it's appropriate that we honored the Navy this year."
The water offered some comic relief at the somber ceremonies. A 6-year-old boy sat down just before his mother could dry his chair. Mom shrugged at her luck. "If it had been my daughter, I would never have heard the end of it. But he's tough. He can take it."
Her son's silence while wearing the wet badge of courage attested to mom's judgment.
A senior learned from the little boy's hasty mistake and wiped her chair dry before trying it.
"It's not the first wet seat I've had to wipe," she said as her companion chuckled.
Dinah Henschel of Modesto came to honor her mother, Lourdes DeGuzman, an Air Force veteran, who is buried here. She died April 22. Choking up, Henschel said she also came to honor "all the veterans who served our country and their families."
Los Banos Mayor Tommy Jones praised those who brought children and exhorted everyone to make sure the "kids know that freedom is not free."
Terri Pickard's family lives that philosophy.
Pickard's 20-year-old son, Tyson, is serving in Afghanistan. He joined the Marines after his brother Joshua was killed. Another Pickard brother is a sergeant who trains Marines at Camp Pendleton.
And, sometimes, when the ultimate price is paid, only a few recognize it.
Jennifer Tyson and two other moms from the Central Valley Chapter of Blue Star Mothers came to place a wreath on the grave of another casualty of the Iraq war, Brian Frost.
Frost's family has said he committed suicide after he came home from Iraq.
He had been diagnosed with depression because of post-traumatic stress disorder.