An overcast sky didn’t dispirit the city of San Clemente, well known for its close ties to the military community, from coming out to honor fallen service members during a Memorial Day event on Monday morning, May 29.
The observance featured performances of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” by students from the St. Margaret’s Episcopal School Choral Department, as well as the traditional armed forces recognition, presentation of florals and wreaths from local organizations, and reading out of San Clemente veterans who have passed in the last year.
Lt. Col. Christopher Kim, commanding officer of the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, served as the day’s keynote speaker.
Kim reminded the hundreds of people in attendance that those who lost their lives fighting for the United States were more than names or memories, but souls who walk San Clemente’s streets.
“You will feel their spirits amongst you,” he said. “They stand on those bluffs overlooking Trestles on those late summer days, waiting for endless set. They sit next to you in bars and restaurants here in San Clemente every Friday evening, thirsting for that cool beer.”
Despite the oncoming days where families’ memories of their deceased loved ones will begin to fade, Kim said, the people who are still living have the obligation to live for those who are not.
He spoke of President Abraham Lincoln’s words at the Gettysburg Address, in which citizens must “be dedicated” to continue the work that was advanced by fallen service members.
Kim added that the people who enlist at an early age know what they’re signing up for and the inherent risks, as they are following the path of those who came before them, of which some never lived to experience an honorable discharge.
“Our country’s existence is therefore guaranteed,” he said. “It is on firm footing when we resolve to place service and sacrifice above all else, grounded in the blood and tears of our fallen heroes. Only then will the lives of those we lost be worth it.”
He also briefly touched on the story of the 13 servicemembers who were killed in the attack on the Kabul airport in Afghanistan in August 2021, 10 of whom were Marines from Camp Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines regiment.
Additionally, Kim spoke about Navy Cross recipient and Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan, who sacrificed himself to save the others in his squad on Aug. 26, 2009. Hogan’s parents, Carla and Jim, are San Clemente residents.
Hogan was on patrol when he saw an explosive device nearby that was set to detonate.
“He pushed the Marines around him to the ground, and while facing the bomb, he yelled for everyone to take cover,” said Kim. “That bomb exploded, and Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan was mortally wounded, yet he saved the dozen Marines around him because their lives mattered more to him than his own.”
“We honor and remember our fallen today, but we cherish and embrace the living, for they bear witness to the extraordinary,” Kim finished.
Mayor Chris Duncan presented Kim with a certificate of recognition for the lieutenant colonel’s presentation and service to the country.
Duncan also spoke, asking the audience to take a moment and reflect on what service members of all the varying branches, active, retired, and deceased, have done in putting everything in their lives to the side for the greater good.
He added that San Clemente, as a military town, should especially be able to recognize the importance of Memorial Day, and that residents should endeavor to speak with veterans and hear their stories.
“Let us never forget the ultimate sacrifices made by these courageous men and women, so that you and I can enjoy the freedoms of the United States of America,” Duncan said. “Let us strive to live up to the example that these men and women have set … by their selfless sacrifice as patriots, each and every day.”