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Fallen Aggies' names echo from Memorial Union's soul

5.24.2013

By Dave Jones

Under the late afternoon sun Thursday (May 23), on the Memorial Union’s north patio, the 5 o’clock hour brought the familiar chime of the MU’s clock, followed by the mournful sound of names from the building’s soul — the names of the 135 known Aggies lost in war.

Then came one last sound: taps. And when Victor Garcia ’11 heard that, he said to himself, “They’re home.”

Our fallen Aggies are home, on the campus many of them left in World War I and World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, the campus where, in 1955, the ASUCD named its new union the Memorial Union in honor of the Aggie war casualties.

About 100 people attended the ceremony, the union’s first Memorial Day observance in recent memory. The organizers, with Campus Recreation and Unions, said they plan to hold the event annually.

Which pleases Garcia to no end, “so the campus understands the meaning of this building,” he said in an interview after the ceremony.

Garcia, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. Today, as part of the campus’s Veterans Affairs Office, he advises other veterans like himself who opted for college after leaving the military.

Six of those veterans read the names in Thursday’s ceremony: Fangwu Chen, Felipe Grimaldo, Cameron Henton, Abby Rowland, Geraldo Salcedo and Elizabeth West.

'They are family'

Army veteran Rowland, a third-year student, majoring in neurobiology, physiology and behavior, said of the fallen Aggie soldiers: “Even though I didn’t know any of them personally, they are family.”

Grimaldo, a Marine Corps veteran who served two tours in Iraq and who graduates in June with a degree in political science, has participated in similar ceremonies elsewhere in the past — always an emotional experience, he said, bringing back “memories of really good men who perished.”

Henton, who also graduates in June with a degree in political science, said he focused on the task at hand when reading the names of fallen Aggies.

But, earlier, when the guest speaker reeled off the names of some of his Army buddies killed in World War II, Henton remembered his own Army buddies who did not come home from Iraq, where he served three tours.

“Especially when he read off his buddies’ nicknames,” Henton said.

The speaker, Francis Resta of Davis, had recalled “Jumping Joe” Kana, “Big Jim” O’Brian and “Popeye” Marzell, among others.

Those men and thousands more from the 102nd Infantry Division are buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial.

“How can we assure that they will not be forgotten, so far away in both geography and time?” Resta asked the audience.

By the same token, how can the UC Davis community assure that its war dead will not be forgotten?

Resta said, “Today we have a choice to appreciate and honor the sacrifices made by the people in uniform who put their lives in harm’s way and who paid the ultimate price in protecting our country.

“You are here today because you made the choice to honor those UCD soldiers who paid that price.”

A new tradition

Grimaldo said the Memorial Day observance served as a fitting end to his years at UC Davis. He was active in veterans affairs at his community college and continued his activism here, spearheading the Veterans Day yellow-ribbon project on the Quad.

Today he works part-time for California Community Colleges, assisting campuses around the state in setting up and running veterans resource centers.

To see UC Davis launch a new Memorial Day tradition, he said, “shows me that people are paying a lot more attention to veterans.”

Adela de la Torre, interim vice chancellor of Student Affairs, commended Campus Recreation and Unions for highlighting the meaning of the Memorial Union, and for providing “the important opportunity to regain the significance of this important day to our country, state and campus.”

“Today marks the start of a new tradition in recognizing these Gold Star Aggies for Memorial Day,” she said.

Gold Star Aggies

Of the 135 names, all but one are enshrined in the campus’s Golden Memory Book (the last Aggie casualty, Army Maj. Mark Taylor from the Iraq War, has yet to be added). Dating back to 1955, the book — actually a binder — features typewritten pages and glued-on photos; to save it from further wear and tear, it is kept in a display case.

However, in conjunction with this week’s observance, Repro Graphics made a copy of the book, digitally scanning every page and assembling them in a bound volume. Those scans are also available online (PDF).

You can see a list of the names (including Taylor’s) here, along with class years at UC Davis, branch of service, highest rank and the war in which they lost their lives.

Earlier coverage

“Aggie war casualties to be honored at building named for them: the MU,” Dateline UC Davis (May 17, 2013)

“City dedicates park to alumnus killed in Vietnam,” Dateline UC Davis (May 25, 2007)

“Honoring the fallen: Staffer remembers those who did not return from war,” Dateline UC Davis (May 26, 2006)

“Golden memories,” Dateline UC Davis (May 26, 2006)

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