The ultimate sacrifice

Athena and Manuel Pereira watch their children from left,

Memorial Day in Gilroy was at times somber, at other times
festive. Yet one overriding theme linked the day’s events
– a love for country and appreciation for those who have served
Memorial Day in Gilroy was at times somber, at other times festive. Yet one overriding theme linked the day’s events – a love for country and appreciation for those who have served it.

“You should study your history well,” Albert Gagliardi, a World War II veteran and this year’s grand marshal for the annual city Memorial Day Parade, told a hushed crowd at a remembrance ceremony at Gavilan Hills Memorial Park. “Do not forget what we’ve done.”

More than 100 attendees, several decked out in red, white and blue or in uniform, started off the day at the cemetery by honoring U.S. soldiers who have given their lives while serving in the armed forces. Honorees included nearly 80 deceased veterans from Gilroy whose names were read during the ceremony.

“Never forget the price that has been paid,” said Reverend Bill Hawkins, the New Hope Community Church creative arts and outreach pastor, before providing the invocation.

The event included patriotic songs, a wreath presentation and a rifle salute, in which members of an honor guard from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6309 and American Legion Post 217 blasted shots into the air before Frank Vargas played Taps on the trumpet. Several Cub Scouts gathered the shells just as the prayer of benediction was about to start.

VFW Post 6309 Commander Louis Eros said the turnout seemed larger than usual.

“I appreciate all the people who remember our troops,” he said after the event.

The ceremony sought to honor both the veterans of the past and those who are fighting today.

Army reservist Victoria Galvan spoke about being on active duty in Iraq and Saudi Arabia while being a single mother. Although it was difficult to leave her son behind, Galvan, who works in human resources at Saint Louise Regional Hospital, said her deployments helped her to be a stronger person and to appreciate the United States.

“I’m proud to be a soldier, fighting for our country and fighting for our freedom,” she said.

Meanwhile, Gagliardi focused on the sacrifices of past veterans, noting that those who served in World War II are a “vanishing breed.”

“As long as one of us remains, we shall always come here to honor them,” Gagliardi said.

Past sacrifices were especially fresh in the minds of friends and family of Staff Sgt. David Gutierrez, who was killed in Afghanistan on Christmas Day by a roadside bomb and buried in Gilroy in January.

Gutierrez was mentioned during the Memorial Day ceremony, and friends and family members placed flowers by his grave after the event.

“This year, it’s different because instead of coming with him, I’m coming for him,” said Gutierrez’s widow, Patty Gutierrez.

David Gutierrez’s mother, Olga Gutierrez – a Gilroy native – said the event was particularly bittersweet as she planned to bury her father today.

After the ceremony, the atmosphere turned more upbeat, with hundreds of residents waving the Stars and Stripes as patriotic floats passed during the annual parade along 10th Street. Representatives from the Gilroy Exchange Club also passed out miniature U.S. flags to children.

Nearly 100 groups, from local businesses and community organizations to the 561st Air National Guard Band of the West Coast from Moffett Field, participated in this year’s event.

Some parade entries were particularly elaborate, such as a Gilroy Unified School District school bus, featuring a crossing guard who exited the bus and led children across the street, and an antique fire hose entered by the Gilroy Historical Society.

Vincent Santiago, 11, said he was impressed by a group of break dancers, while his friend, Moses Lopez, said he appreciated the talent.

“It really entertains the community,” said 17-year-old Gilroy High School student Ruben Ortega, who said he attends the event every year. “It brings everyone out here, and it keeps people out of trouble.”

Elizabeth Angulo, whose sister was driving a Harley Davidson motorcycle in this year’s parade, said she comes out each year.

“I love how the community comes together,” Angulo said. “I’m very proud.”

Spectators also cheered as helicopters flew over the event along with airplanes in formation. Several people also clapped as the Veterans of Foreign Wars passed.

Veterans received special honors during a moment of silence and a flag-folding ceremony at Christmas Hill Park later in the day.

It is because of those veterans that Gilroy native Paul Mirelez, now an Arnold resident, comes to Gilroy every Memorial Day.

Mirelez, who served in the Army, National Guard and Marines, is a relative of Gutierrez, and Mirelez’s uncle – former Gilroy resident Cresencio Mirelez – was killed in the Korean War.

Even in death, Paul Mirelez believes those who have been killed would serve their country again if given the opportunity.

“They have carried on the American Revolution for the freedom we enjoy,” he said.

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