New Exhibit: Fallen, Not Forgotten

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After a poignant exhibit honoring the fallen soldiers from California debuted earlier this year at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the foundation bearing the 40th president’s name posted a video online featuring imagery from the event interspersed with speeches delivered by Reagan. As the video nears its conclusion, Reagan is on a tarmac to welcome an American soldier’s casket home and quotes John Stuart Mill in his address.
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things,” Reagan began. “The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
When the “Remembering Our Fallen” traveling memorial arrives in Pasadena this Sunday, Sept. 13, for a two-week stay at American Legion Post 13, the community will have the opportunity to honor the seven better men who grew up in the area, including San Marino’s J.P. Blecksmith.
Created by Nebraskans Bill and Evonne Williams, “Remembering Our Fallen” is a state-specific traveling war memorial to soldiers killed in action in the War on Terror.
While the first week of viewing is for group reservations, the general public is invited to view the exhibit between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. from Sept. 21 to 26, and is also encouraged to gather in front of Post 13 (131 N. Marengo Ave.) at 11:30 a.m. this Sunday to welcome its arrival.
Other area soldiers included in the exhibit are Todd Bryant, Sergio Escobar, Rogelio Ramirez, Adam Rosema, Scott Studenmund and Dion Whitley.
The families of the fallen soldiers will gather for a special invitation-only event on Sept. 19 as guest speakers pay an intimate tribute to the Gold Star families’ sons and brothers.
More than 700 Californians have been killed in military engagement since 9/11, resulting in the largest “Remembering Our Fallen” memorial.
Blecksmith, a second lieutenant with the Marines, fell in Fallujah, Iraq, on Veteran’s Day in 2004, but according to his father, his legacy today still stands strong.
“I get letters from kids who never met him but learn about him and get motivated,” Ed Blecksmith said recently. “It’s touching.”
The younger Blecksmith’s legacy looms large locally. A graduate of Flintridge Prep graduate and star quarterback for the Rebels, he fielded offers from dozens of top-flight college programs. But the allure of following in his Marine father’s footsteps proved more compelling than recruiting pitches by national championship contenders, and Blecksmith enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy.
For the boy who grew up putting on his father’s combat uniform and digging foxholes in an abandoned lot near the Blecksmith home, serving in the armed forces felt like his calling.
Blecksmith, a popular student in high school and a beloved member of his family, was killed while clearing a building of Iraqi insurgents. When news of his death reached home, the community grieved right along with the Blecksmiths: An estimated 2,000 mourners attended his funeral later in November.
In the years that have followed, Ed said getting to know the other local Gold Star families has provided some semblance of kinship and community. When Pasadena’s Whitley was killed in 2005, Ed went to the funeral with his late wife, Pam, and son, Alex. That connection will be rekindled next week when Ed takes the microphone at the Gold Star family event to speak about the sacrifices that were made and those left behind.
As for the general public who will visit the exhibit throughout September, Ed hopes they learn a lesson, too.
“I want them to understand how devastating it is on the family. We who are not family get over it rather quickly,” said Ed. When told that the exhibit features more than 700 soldiers from California, he added, “California has a large population, but that’s a lot of complete commitment and sacrifice. I think that people in America take it for granted.”
Blecksmith also had a profound influence on another Flintridge Prep student, Scott Sudenmund, who was killed in Afghanistan last summer.
Studenmund was an 8th-grade student at Flintridge Prep and already envisioning a future in the military when the school’s intercom announced Blecksmith’s death. In the days following Blecksmith’s death, Studenmund’s mother, Jaynie, asked her son about how it affected him.
“He said, ‘J.P. inspires me,’” Jaynie recalled.
For more information, visit RememberingOurFallen.org or call Carmen Salazar at (626) 792-2158.

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