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Rocklin remembers its fallen heroes on Memorial Day

By: Jon Brines, Special to The Placer Herald
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On Memorial Day Rocklin citizens assembled near the grave of the Unknown Soldier at the Rocklin District Cemetery to raise a flag to half staff in honor of fallen relatives.
The outgoing commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars post 904, Loren Barton, led an emotional ceremony with reflections of his family’s own sacrifice.
The freedoms Americans enjoy, some of which include free speech, assembly, the right to keep and bare arms and the amorphous pursuit of happiness have endured for 232 years because of the men and women who agreed to go in harm’s way to defend them, he said.
“All this is why I’m here,” Barton said.
Barton honored his six relatives from the Revolutionary War, a relative from the War of 1812, one who died at the Alamo March 6, 1836 and a number who died in the Civil War.
“My great-grandfather was in World War I, killed in France and my grandfather served in the Pacific theater in WWII,” Barton said. “My father served in Korea. My brother served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. My son is in the army. He served in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Barton, a Navy Seabee during the Vietnam War, fought back tears and asked himself a question.
“The question for me is ‘why am I here?’” Barton said. “This is where I’m supposed to be, honoring these brave men and women that lie beneath the flags and crosses here as I’m hoping that someone is standing in positions in other cemeteries honoring my family that lie beneath the flags and crosses.”
And in an intimate way, strangers took their turn at the microphone and were allowed to speak the names of those who serve or have served and died for those freedoms. Even school children that helped to lead the National Anthem from Parker Whitney Elementary took a turn to declare an uncle or sibling in harm’s way.
Col. Whit Woodard, chief of chaplains for the Air Force Auxiliary came in full uniform to salute those he knew who were buried in Rocklin and to honor his two sons who served in Iraq and even his great-grandfather who fought with George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
A bell was rung for every branch of the service. One more was rung for those who fought the Cold War, like Rocklin resident Albert Stringer, who kept the peace in occupied Berlin, Germany while stationed with the U.S. Army and later saw the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“You see the names on the wall in Washington, D.C and these are guys you were buddies with, went out with and had a good time with,” Stringer said. “We’re able to enjoy our kids and grandkids because their sacrifice gave me the opportunity to be here.”
Stringer also remembered his son-in-law, Sgt. 1st Class Todd Gibbs who was killed by a roadside bomb leading his patrol near Khalidiyah, Iraq, on Dec. 7, 2004.
“He was like a son to us,” Stringer said. “Our granddaughter is now 14 and she’s gone through some tough years. She was very close to her father.”
And then there was Gina Wheeler, herding her five children all under the age of 9 with flag T-shirts to read headstones. She said she comes every year to teach them a lesson.
“We just thought it was important to teach them the importance of remembering the soldiers who have given their lives for their country,” Wheeler said.
She said she learned the lesson herself after her father came home from Vietnam and was spat on for being involved in an unpopular war. Now, tirelessly holding her crying infant, Wheeler declares she’ll be back next year too.
“I’m trying to explain to the younger ones,” Wheeler said. “They are still just soaking it in.”
She’s done enough for her 9-year-old daughter Isabelle who grabbed the microphone at the memorial to announce the name of the veteran she holds dear.
“They took care of our country,” she said.

For more photos: Rocklin celebrates Memorial Day with ceremony