Festivities and Solemnity at LCF’s Fiesta Days

For an hour and a half Monday, La Cañada Flintridge took a break from its annual four-day-long fiesta to mark the most solemn of holidays with song and speech in tribute to American service members lost in the nation’s wars.
“This isn’t really about us,” said Richard White, who served in Vietnam as a member of the Army and was among the 30 veterans who spoke during a ceremony at Memorial Park. “It’s about all of those friends of mine who never made it home.”
Included among the large, patriotically dressed audience at this year’s ceremony were family members of Army Sgt. Joseph Stifter, a St. Francis High School graduate who was killed on Jan. 28 in Iraq when his armored vehicle rolled over at Al Asal Airbase in Al Anbar Province. He was 30.
The service was attended by about 400 people, including regional and local dignitaries. Among them was Congressman Adam Schiff, who spoke about Stifter, whose Eagle Scout project was completed in Memorial Park, near where he was being honored.
“As the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, I can tell you there is no safe place in Iraq, there is no safe job in Iraq,” Schiff said. “And while our troops may be there in a train-and-assist mission, it is still combat when the bullets are flying.”
Schiff said Stifter is among 16 service members who were lost in Iraq in the past two years.
“It’s a terrible tragedy for his family,” Schiff added, somberly, “and a reminder of just how grave the risks are and how deep the sacrifices are for anyone who puts on the uniform of the United States.”
Robert Martin echoed those sentiments. He fought in the bloody, three-month-long Battle of Okinawa during World War II. A machine gun squad member, he recalled that the Okinawan people, “caught between two armies,” lost more than 100,000 people. The U.S. military had a casualty rate of 72%, he said, adding that he lost his squad leader just before the battle ended.
“I look back thinking, as I look at you now, I’m grateful to be here and I’m remembering the guys who didn’t come back,” Martin said.
The voices of local children were front and center during the ceremony. They sang songs such as “Danny Boy” and “Letters From Home,” and recited poetry such as Walt Whitman’s “Dirge for Two Veterans.”
They also read aloud the names of the 29 veterans with LCF ties who lost their lives in wars.
Two of the names were John and Joseph Doherty, who were killed in World War II. Their names are on the plaques.
“I think this is great,” said their nephew, John Doherty, a Beverly Hills resident who grew up in LCF and served with the Marines in Vietnam. “I didn’t know this was here until they called me up about my uncles because they needed information. And I’ve been coming ever since. There’s not enough of this.”
He was joined by 29 other veterans who fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Before a crowd of about 300, the men all introduced themselves, and many offered a quick sketch of their combat experiences.
Among those addressing the crowd were St. Francis High School President Tony Marti, a former Army medic who gave the benediction at the ceremony; Fiesta Days Parade Grand Marshal Frank “Paco” Ruiz, an Air Force veteran (as anyone who’s been to his barbershop has seen); and event organizer Joe Puglia, who served with the Marines in Vietnam.
Except for his quick introduction, Puglia stayed out of the way, letting the children take center stage. Katherine Whitfield, 13, served as Puglia’s aide-de-camp, working as a stage manager of sorts throughout the event.
She said the job compelled her to appreciate the sacrifice of vets.
“It’s really powerful. You see the families in the audience and that they’ve lost someone and it’s really touching,” Whitfield said. “You feel like you need to give them something, which we try to do in the ceremony.”

Leave a Reply