When La Cañada Flintridge celebrated Memorial Day on Monday, the flag-bearers wore face masks.
But even after the coronavirus pandemic forced the annual event online, many members of the community volunteered to assist with the tribute to those who have died while serving the military.
And some of the soldiers honored in the 23-minute YouTube video produced by the event organizers were the city’s own.
“It’s an extra special reflection of our community that this event is being held virtually,” Jaynie Studenmund said in the video, which was published late Sunday. Her son Scott, a Flintridge Prep graduate and member of the United States Army Special Forces, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in June 2014. He was 24.
“When you lose someone in a war like that, your heart is forever broken. A piece of your heart is missing. At the same time, there’s tremendous pride in having a son, or others [who] are being recognized here in La Cañada, who was willing to dedicate his life to our nation’s freedoms,” Studenmund said.
Studenmund also thanked Joseph Puglia, chairman of the community Memorial Day Commemoration team and Vietnam War veteran, for organizing the tribute. Other than an appearance at the Memorial Day ceremony in 2015, this was her first time being invited to speak for the event.
Puglia said that, once the city announced it was closing its parks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he knew this year’s ceremony would look different. While in previous years he required multiple rehearsals to make sure everything went smoothly, he had little control over how the pieces were crafted — though he noted it went smoothly.
He added that he wanted to make sure its meaning was retained — and reflected even in the decorum of the participants.
“The kids who have been part of the team over the years, when I do those rehearsals … I tell them the meaning of Memorial Day and the essence of Memorial Day,” Puglia said in a phone interview. “I say, ‘I want you to put your best uniform on, and if you don’t have a uniform, I want you to put your best clothes on, because you are representing the memory of an American who was killed in action, and you’re doing it for them.’ So, they get it. They really do.”
Besides the addresses given by Studenmund and Marshall, the Memorial Day video was largely produced by LCF youth. Many of them had been involved in previous iterations of the event.
The returning participants included Tournament of Roses 2020 Court member Emilie Risha, who read “Dirge for Two Veterans” by Walt Whitman. David and Steven Miketta accompanied John Moore — all Eagle Scouts — for the flag ceremony at Memorial Park, hanging the standard at half-mast where the event is normally held.
Maggie MacKenzie also sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Danny Boy,” as she has at previous Memorial Day events.
The video was capped by a rendition of “Taps,” played by Henry Vaughn, and a slideshow of soldiers who were killed in action. Some were from LCF, Puglia said, while others were from a broader community. Some of the faces were of soldiers he knew personally.
The video also included the reading of names of soldiers from LCF who were killed in various wars, from WWI to Afghanistan. Scott Studenmund was the only name listed under the latter war.
On Memorial Day, his family received dozens of texts, emails and phone calls from people wanting to check in with them, Jaynie said. She explained that the period from Mother’s Day to Memorial Day to the June anniversary of when he died is an emotional time for the family, but that she and her husband, Woody, spent Monday reflecting on her son and others.
“I was really honored [to be a part of the event], and I believe that part of my role as a Gold Star mother is to make sure that we do everything possible to honor my son and the others who selflessly have given their lives,” she said by phone.
Scott was an ardent reader with an incredible athletic talent, playing football for Pomona College, she said. When he left college to join the Army in January 2014, Jaynie said he told his friends at Flintridge Prep something that he himself followed: “Please do something that matters.”
“He didn’t want anybody to necessarily go and be in Special Forces,” she explained. “He wanted to see people give back.”