First published in the Nov. 13 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Partway through her rendition of the national anthem, performing in front of a Veterans Day crowd, singer Heidi-Marie Ferren suddenly found herself struggling to keep up the melody. Her heart, she later explained, overcame her voice.
But while her words dwindled, the crowd pressed on. Dozens of Burbank officials, veterans and other community members gathered at McCambridge Park for Thursday’s event, kept singing. Ferren quickly recovered, joining the rest in the anthem.
The Veterans Day ceremony was a return to form for Burbank, as the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s event. Featuring speeches from Burbank leaders and veterans, the proceeding honored those who have served in the military, with special recognition given to those killed during their service. This year’s Veterans Day was the first in two decades to be held without the United States being at war.
“Be thankful for the freedoms that our men and women that are defending our country … are giving us to this very day,” Burbank Veterans Committee chairman and Vietnam War veteran Mickey DePalo said Thursday. “They are a special group of people. There is no more noble thing a man or woman can do than to serve his [or] her country.”
On a table next to the podium at which DePalo spoke were 13 vases of roses. Each represented an American service member killed in an attack on the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August.
Speakers also honored troops who died long ago. Paul McKenna Jr., a Burbank Veterans Committee Member who served with both the Marine Corps and the Army, told attendees that the U.S. Department of Defense recently announced it had identified the remains of a Burbank resident who died in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The resident, Marine Pfc. William Collier, was 20 years old when he was killed while on the USS Oklahoma.
An emotional McKenna told the crowd that he recently “realized how much pain we put our families through, how much the people at home sacrifice and how much harder it is to wait and wonder. And then you get slapped in the face with a family that had to wait 80 years to find the fate of their son.”
Though the Veterans Day event was, by nature, a solemn occasion, there were moments of celebration. Mayor Bob Frutos presented Gregory Alaimo, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and Burbank resident, with the key to the city — the highest award Burbank can give to an individual. Frutos praised Alaimo’s service, explaining that he works to connect military members with veterans programs.
Alaimo, who noted lightheartedly that he had thought his only role would be to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, kept his acceptance speech short, thanking those who had supported him in his efforts.
DePalo, who spoke after him, hailed Alaimo as an exemplar of community service, encouraging other veterans to follow his lead.
“Get out and get involved in our community,” DePalo said. “Let them know that we’re here, that we’re proud and we’re remembering all the people [who have] lost their lives — we’re representing them now. We’re blessed to … live in this wonderful country and still be alive and still be vibrant. So, keep doing what Greg [Alaimo] does.”