As retired Sgt. Maj. Bill Paxton walked Sunday through Miramar National Cemetery, he spotted an old friend.
“I want you to see my friend,” he said, leading a visitor down a row of headstones.
“We were drill instructors together,” Paxton said. “I didn’t even know he died,” referring to William Hayley, buried six years ago.
The retired Marine went on to recall their time together in drill instructor school and their tours together in Vietnam. Hayley was a good Marine, he said.
Paxton, the San Diego County Veteran of the Year in 2005, was one of hundreds of veterans and families who joined the cemetery’s fifth annual Memorial Day ceremony to honor fallen military members and their families.
Paxton and fellow veterans listened to music and speeches and exchanged information about their years of service.
“We’re giving our buddies who didn’t come back the respect that is due to them,” said Andre Chappaz, 90, who served in the Pacific as an Army engineer.
“It’s an occasion to meet other veterans and share the times because the war times you will never forget; it’s part of your life.”
Another veteran, retired Army Col. Marvin Muskat, 96, said the ceremony “helps inside.”
“I was in the Army for 39 years, serving my country all the way from private to colonel, he said. “My heart is with this country; everything I do is for this country. I’m so proud of this country and proud of what the people can do in this country.”
Walking among the gravestones, he paid a visit to his late wife, Norma, a Holocaust survivor.
Maj. Gen. Joesph M. Martin, commanding general for the Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, said: “In every war in our history, it is often those left behind who struggle to understand the loss of their loved ones.
“We, who are the heirs of their legacy, must always be he guardians of their dreams and the guarantors of the security of the same nation they swore to defend.”
Earlier, San Diego County Veteran of the Year Ed Berger said, “The real heroes are those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. The real heroes wore dog tags.”
Lynette Harmon of Temecula came to the service to honor her father, who served in World War II, and her grandfather, who fought with the Union Army during the Civil War. Her husband fought in Vietnam.
Harmon, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, said that involvement has “brought me closer to understand my background and family and other people who are grieving and remembering the fallen.”
“It’s an emotional time.”
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