Hundreds of supporters joined families and dignitaries at a moving Memorial Day ceremony to commemorate the unveiling of the Enduring Heroes statue in Pasadena.
The 8-foot bronze sculpture, stationed prominently in Defenders Park, on the corner of Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards, will serve as a tribute to the 11 area soldiers — including San Marino’s J.P. Blecksmith — who gave their lives over the past 15 years in Afghanistan and Iraq.
J.P.’s father, Ed Blecksmith, spoke as a representative for all 11 local Gold Star Families who lost a son or daughter in the War on Terror: “This was a title, Gold Star Family, that none of us sought,” he said. “Losing a child, especially one who has volunteered to serve his or her country during a time of conflict, is a prospect very few families have had to face.”
Ed Blecksmith, like his son a Marine and a football player, said that with less than 1% of the U.S. population now volunteering for military service, the willingness of his son and his military colleagues to step into the breach to defend their nation exhibits rare valor and is the reason the American military is the finest in the world.
“Freedom is not free,” Blecksmith added. “It is purchased by individuals who write a check payable to the United States of America in the sum up to and including their lives.”
J.P. Blecksmith, a Marine 2nd Lt., was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, on Nov. 11, 2004, while leading the Marines in support of Operation Phantom Fury.
Congressman Adam Schiff addressed Ed Blecksmith and the other Gold Star family members who filled out the first two rows of seats on Monday, thanking them in solemn tones: “We are in awe of your sacrifice and we owe you a debt of gratitude that we can never repay. Indeed it’s a debt we cannot even comprehend.”
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger also expressed gratitude to those families and the others who worked for three years to bring the statue to the park, diagonal from the flagpole memorializing those lost in World War I.
“Every time I drive by this, I will think of all those who sacrificed their lives,” she said. “And I want you all to know that as a supervisor, it truly is my honor to be a part of today’s ceremony, and because it truly is about remembering those who sacrificed for us to be free — I want each and every one of you, each day, to never take for granted the reason why we are able to stand and speak our thoughts and be who we are in the United States.”
The names and photographs of the 11 soldiers were prominently featured at the event: Army 1st Lt. Todd Bryant; Marine Lance Cpl. Dion Whitley; Marine Lance Cpl. Sergio Escobar; Army Reserve Spc. Carla Stewart; Army Spc. Adam Rosema; Army Pvt. 1st Class Cory Hiltz; Marine Lance Cpl. Rogelio Ramirez; Army Spc. William Gilbert; Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Scott Studenmund; Army Sgt. Joseph Stifter and Blecksmith.
“Our 11 heroes grew up and or went to school in these cities,” Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek said. “They were born at Huntington Hospital or other local hospitals. They served as Scouts, played sports, attended our local churches and likely at times created some mischief. They walked the streets of our towns, came from diverse backgrounds with families from all different walks of life, and that is part of what make our community so strong and vibrant.”
He said he was impressed by the fortitude of those families, who raised more than $600,000 and worked with politicians and other community members to see through the vision of honoring their “enduring heroes” with the monument.
“At one point, I felt compelled to warn the group there would be some controversy and they should weigh whether they had the stomach for it,” Tornek said. “Of course they did, and that’s why we’re here today.”
As they crowd departed after the 90-minute ceremony, which was interspersed with music from Pasadena’s Rachael Worby and Muse/ique, many attendees planted small American flags at the base of the statue, a work by artist Christopher Slatoff.
An endowment has been established through the Pasadena Community Foundation to maintain it and, if necessary, add names to it, said Shelley Long, chair of the Enduring Heroes committee.
“Nothing — NOTHING — prepares you for that terrible moment when the military casualty officers come to your front door,” Ed Blecksmith said. “A piece of your heart is cut out forever. Each of us thinks about our child every minute of every day and will for the rest of our lives. We will never see them get married, or have a family or see them achieve the many goals they were capable of attaining.
“And with the devastating news we each received, we were also presented with a challenge: Do we give up on living? Or do we choose to celebrate our child’s legacy and continue to honor their lives through our own? I think the answer to that question is evident.”