Paso Robles celebrates Veteran’s Day with drive-thru

NORTH COUNTY — Friends and family all around North County took time on Nov. 11 to pay tribute to all our Nation’s veterans.

In Atascadero, a crowd of close to 1,000 people gathered at the Face of Freedom Veterans Memorial to celebrate and honor the men and women who have fought for and served our country.

For the second year, Paso Robles District Cemetary invited residents to drive around the cemetery grounds to view the traditional Avenue of Flags on Nov. 11.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

In Atascadero, ceremonies led by KPRL’s Dick Mason started with a flyover by the Estrella Warbirds at exactly 11:00 a.m., followed promptly by the Presentation of Colors, accompanied by Central Coast Pipes and Drums.

The crowd stayed on their feet as Lyra Stoltz, and Lucy Hope [members of the Atascadero Fine Arts Academy Honor Choir] stood in front of the Face of Freedom Memorial and gave a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem.

“Why are we here? To remember the Veterans and remember what they have done for us. They have served so well. They’ve provided what we have today; peace and freedom in our land.

Although it may be rugged at times, again they have served, they have sacrificed, and they have done so much,” said retired CDR (commander) David L. Brooks of the United States Navy Reserve (USNR), in his Invocation. “What a wonderful monument we have here. And we are so pleased to be able to reflect and remember what the Veterans have done because they’ve done it for each of us,” he continued.

There wasn’t a dry eye on the lawn as the Armed Forces Medley was played over the loudspeakers, and Veterans from each branch of the military were asked to stand. Young and old, men and women, all stood as their branch’s themes played.

Lieutenant General Scott C. Black was the next to speak, reminding us all of the importance of remembering our Veterans. “Indeed, there were times in our not too distant past where service and the uniform of our country were not recognized and applauded. We should never forget those times,” he said.

Lieutenant General Black then shared a poem with the crowd. “I carry a short poem in my gear, and I always have. To remind me, personally, of the oath of loyalty that we owe to our Veterans. And I’d like to share that poem with you. The poet’s name has long been lost to the ages, but the words are poignant and worth repeating here today. It goes this way:

God and the soldier
We adore
In time of trouble,
But not before;
When trouble is over
And wrongs are righted,
God is forgotten –
And the soldier slighted.

Here today, that is certainly not the case.”

A group of Veterans was also awarded with Quilts of Valor from our local chapter, who have made over 362 quilts for service members and Veterans alike in the area.

San Luis Obispo’s County Supervisor, Debbie Arnold, presented Distinguished Veteran Awards to Bonnie Meyer and Leroy “Max” Bowery. Both of which served our country overseas during WWII. Meyer worked her way to deployment and landed in Naples in 1945, and Bowery happened to rescue [then future President] George H. Bush on the seas.

A wreath presentation by VFW Auxilary #2814, Taps played by Darin Gong, and The Returning of Colors wrapped up the ceremony.

“It [The Veterans Day Ceremony] is always so well attended; hundreds, if not well over a thousand people [showed up] here. Our residents really enjoy this. It’s a time to come together and celebrate our veterans and honor them, and it’s just a beautiful time,” Atascadero’s Mayor, Heather Moreno, said.

There were also plenty of booths for people to explore after the ceremony was over, as well as a free barbecue lunch for all participating Veterans provided by the Atascadero Kiwanis. For a small price, other attendees could eat as well.

The Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial is open all year round and is a beautiful place to see local soldiers honored with bricks, plaques, and statues.

Each year, the Paso Robles District Cemetary creates the Avenue of Flags throughout the grounds to pay tribute to our Veterans. Additionally, the flags are accompanied by a ceremony is conducted at 11:00 a.m. sharp, with notable speakers, bands, and a flyover by the Warbirds Museum.

However, due to COVID, the Veterans Day ceremonies have been converted to drive-thru events.

According to Tom Flynn, the cemetery’s director, it takes approximately two months to put together their traditional ceremony, and two months ago, a ceremony like theirs would not be possible due to COVID restrictions.

However, Flynn says, “Even with COVID, we have managed to get the flag crew together, and we’ve always done our flag set up so at least people can come out [and pay their respects].”

According to Flynn, the Paso Robles District Cemetery is home to 1,200 VA (Veteran Affairs) issued headstones. But that number is increased to over 2,000 when counting privately issued veteran headstones.

He says there are even some veterans from the Spanish American War buried in the Pioneer section of the cemetery.

Volunteers from the VFW, Boy Scouts, Moose Lions Club, and others help put flags on every veteran’s grave in the cemetery.

Despite a change in plans, Flynn says there was a huge turnout of visitors paying their respects to our veterans, and he hopes next year, Paso Robles District Cemetery will be able to welcome back their traditional Veteran’s Day ceremonies.

Veterans, we salute and thank you!