Memorial Day observed across the Bay Area


There was an excellent turnout on a cold and gray day. The program was focused on the Korean War, as they celebrated the 60th anniversary of the end of that war. One veteran said the event meant a lot to him because he wasn't sure to many of them would be around for the 70th anniversary.

A wreath was laid at the tombstone of Korean War Medal of Honor recipient William Dean for whom the ceremony was also dedicated.

Organizers say attendance at the ceremony has been growing over the past few years, but some say they still wish more people would pause and remember the holiday.

"I think it's important. I think that those that gave up their life and also gave up their lives, they never had the opportunity to see their children grow or do anything else," Korean War veteran Lt. Col Wallace Levin told ABC7 News. "Now what people should do is go back to when they were 20 and then erase everything else. That's what happened to those that passed, that we honor today. We honor, actually, a million Americans that died in our wars."

A small group of seven World War II veterans received a special honor. They were awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal by the consul general of France.

Sixty-nine years ago, Rudolph Giannoni was a B-17 waste gunner fighting above France on D-Day. Monday, the French government bestowed him, and six others with its Legion of Honor medal. The medal is that nation's highest honor.

During one of his missions Giannoni was taken prisoner by the enemy. As a prisoner of war, he endured a forced march for three months and 600 miles.

"It wasn't easy. We were all a bunch of teenagers over there, you know, fighting a big battle but we did it for one reason. We wanted to keep our country free," said Giannoni.

Scott and Leah Jones traveled a long way through the rain from Chico. They wanted to introduce their young daughters to their great-grandfather, Col. Dudley Jones. It took them a while to find him, but they did.

"This is actually our first time and we'd like to make it more of a tradition," said Scott Jones.

Uncertain future for Lafayette crosses

The controversial Lafayette crosses went up seven years ago to protest the war in Iraq. But with the war winding down, and the controversy mostly in the background, founder Jeff Heaton is looking toward the future.

"We really feel like we want to do something more," he said. "We still get a few people who express anger toward us. But I think that, in general, most people seem to be really accepting of the crosses and do realize that our hearts are in the right place; that we are supportive of the troops."

The crosses, which are on a hill across from the Lafayette BART station, are seen by many as a proper place to remember and pay respect to those lost in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today, Heaton has a new vision for the grassy hillside.

"And so what we are focusing in on now is a veteran's recovery center and housing," he said.

But Heaton is already hearing opposition to the idea of putting veteran housing on the property.

Lafayette City Councilman Brandt Andersson says it's unlikely the City Council would approve veteran housing, or any multi-family use on this property.

"Any multi-family housing would be highly problematic, let's put it that way, to get passed. Because it's really is inconsistent with plans that have been in place for decades," he said.

Once an opponent of the crosses, Lafayette resident and retired Brigadier General Barton Gilbert believes this would be a great place to help veterans get a new start.

"Doing something besides making a visual display, I think, would be much more important to actually provide some services for our returning veterans," said Gilbert.

Oakland police remember fallen officers

The Oakland Police Department remembered their own this Memorial Day holiday by placing flags at the graves of those who've died in the line of duty.

John Hege died on March 22, 2009 in a shooting that took the lives of three of his colleagues. Hege was a registered organ donor and his mother says he saved four lives after losing his own. But she doesn't want another family to experience the kind of loss she did.

"We don't want any more of them, nobody else," said Tamra Hege.

A wreath stands next to a marble wall at Oakland Police headquarters. It bears the names of every officer who has died in the line of duty, between 1969 and 2009.

The story out of the department over the past few weeks has been one of instability amongst the leadership. However, Monday afternoon was a time to honor those who wear the uniform.

"This is a job people go into to help other people, to serve others and I think what gets lost is some people pay the ultimate price while trying to do that service," said Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent.

Officers say they will be back next year to honor the fallen.

ABC7 News reporters Amy Hollyfield, Wayne Freedman, Laura Anthony and Nick Smith contributed to this report.

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