SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - For 98 years veterans, families, friends and dignitaries have come to Oak Hill Memorial Park to pay homage to the ones who didn't make it home.
The fallen vets from America’s many wars are now personified by a sea of flags at thousands of burial sites.
William Sanchez was clearing off a headstone and planting flowers for his father, Pete Sanchez. He says his dad set the tone for service, ultimately dying in the Philippines in 1975.
"It’s our country… he defended our country. I'm proud of him," he said.
The flags at the centuries old cemetery were flying at half-staff, and the hearts of many attendees are still heavy with the full weight of loss. But hundreds braved the unflinching sun to sit and reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren represents California's 19th district and says, "All across our country, people are remembering those who lost their lives to keep us free." Adds Major General David Baldwin of the California National Guard, "that's a major strength of our nation, that we have people such as these that would selflessly serve. Go away from their homes and their families. And when necessary, pay the ultimate price."
Former US Army serviceman Bill Scott still remembers the day his friend's tour of duty in Vietnam ended abruptly back in 1969. Just six months shy of going home, Michael Hatzell became one of the 58,000 plus to die fighting in that controversial conflict. Scott says the pain is always with him. "Time kind of evolves. And you don't think about it as much. But every couple of days...and I have reminders around my house. And I can't let it go."
Many gathered Oak Hill Memorial Park said despite the pain, they never want to let go of the memories or the meaning behind their loved one's making the ultimate sacrifice.