Gilbert Memorial Day ceremony

In years prior to the pandemic, the Gilbert Memorial Day ceremony was hosted by HD south but over time attendance has outgrown the site.

Some of Gilbert’s regional neighbors have no special plans for Memorial Day tomorrow and the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona for the second consecutive year will not be holding its traditional service.

But Gilbert will continue its tradition commemorating those who gave their lives for their country as well as veterans who have passed away.

This year, Gilbert Civic Center will host the ceremony 9-10:30 a.m. Monday, May 31.

And throughout the day, people can pay tribute to the late Valley warrior Patrick Tillman by visiting Gilbert Memorial Park Cemetery and Funeral Home at 2100 E. Queen Creek Road.

For every person who checks in at the park on Monday, Gilbert Memorial Park will make a donation to the Patrick Tillman Foundation. Visitors can check in at the entrance, drive or walk around the park to reflect, and see the flags set  in honor of fallen military personnel. Staff members will be available to give tours 8 a.m.-1 p.m. but the fundraiser will go all day long.

Moving Gilbert’s Memorial Day morning ceremony from HD South to the more spacious lawns at the Civic Center was a joint move by the Gilbert Veterans Advisory Board, the town and HD SOUTH.

“The event has outgrown the space and parking restrictions of the HD SOUTH lawn. It is important we have space for everyone that would like to attend,” said mayoral aide Valerie Shaffer. 

Joshua M. Bring, chair of Memorial Day for the town and instrumental in planning and implementing Gilbert’s Veteran’s Day events the past four years, stressed, “We will continue a lot of the traditions that were started at and by HD SOUTH and add to the grandeur of the event to give this day the significance we all feel it deserves.” 

Members of American Legion Post 39 will lay a wreath and local Legion Riders will be escorted by a group of Gilbert Police motorcycle officers who are also veterans.

 Luke Air Force Base will set up a MIA POW Table and a Battlefield Cross and a brass band will play. 

Mayor Brigette Peterson will speak, followed by Eric Ballester, retired U.S. Air Force Special Operations master sergeant and combat controller.

Bring said the organizers are hoping to honor the Gold Star families in the community and were looking to contact them.  

“We would appreciate the community’s help in making sure we get a personal invitation to any Gilbert resident who lost a family member that died while serving our country,” he said.

Residents may submit the names of any family members to be honored via the form available at gilbertaz.gov/veterans.

Denise Lopez, the new HD SOUTH CEO who will emcee, said she was “honored” at the opportunity. 

“It truly is a privilege,” Lopez said. “HD South has close ties to the annual Memorial Day event and being able to continue to be an integral part of it, is very fitting.”

Lopez, a Gilbert resident, hails from a family with a rich tradition of military service. Her father served in the Army in Vietnam, her father-in-law served in the Army in Korea, her brother served in the Navy and two nephews serve in the Air Force and Marines.

Since the early 2000s, the event was held in the front lawns of HD SOUTH, then known as Gilbert Historical Museum, in coordination with Gilbert American Legion Post 39. 

When former HD SOUTH executive director Kayla Kolar came on board in 2005, the ceremony was held on a small scale without any music or speakers with about 50 people in attendance.

“Over the years, the museum took it over and added the Ahwatukee Foothills Concert Band, a guest speaker, invited local dignitaries, and advertised it so that by 2019 over 500 people were in attendance,” Kolar said. 

Last year, the Memorial Day event was scrapped due to the pandemic.

Looking to the future, commemorating Memorial Day will remain important.

“Our focus will remain on honoring the men and women who have died in service to the U.S. military, with an emphasis on those with a Gilbert or East Valley connection,” Shaffer said. “The Gilbert Veterans Board is passionate about making Gilbert the most welcoming community for Veterans and their families. Memorial Day is an important opportunity to remember the Veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”

 HD SOUTH also offer free admission Monday from noon until 4 p.m. as in years past. It will be the last day of the 16th annual Art of Quilting Show which has a special focus on blue-and-white quilts. About 75 quilts are on display, made by the HD SOUTH quilting group. 

The museum-turned-arts-center also has an extensive collection of local military memorabilia in the Military Room, which highlights members of the community who served in the Armed Forces.

“We strongly encourage attendees stop by HD South after the event, especially if they have never had a chance to tour the Gilbert Historical Museum,” Shaffer said.

Gilbert Memorial Park Cemetery and Funeral Home’s fundraiser for the Patrick Tillman Foundation honors one of Arizona’s most famous fallen warriors.

Tillman, an Arizona State University graduate, gave up a promising career with the Arizona Cardinals after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to enlist in the Army. He was killed during a battle in Afghanistan in 2004.

“Memorial Day is a time to reflect and honor fallen veterans who have sacrificed in our community and across the country,” said Gilbert Memorial Park President Bryce Bunker. 

“At Gilbert Memorial Park we are doing our part to both honor our country’s bravest and to make a positive impact in the community. We have served families of veterans and there is no greater honor for us than to give them excellent care.”

“Pat Tillman is known to be a brave hero in our state and in our country,” he continued. “Being an ASU grad myself, the meaning of his legacy is personal to me and we are proud to help support the foundation’s mission. This fundraiser offers a very simple way for the people of Gilbert to get involved and reflect on the sacrifice of our country’s bravest.”

The Pat Tillman Foundation seeks to empower the next generation of leaders and unite the military community in sacrificial service. The foundation provides scholarships to fund the academic pursuits of military service members, veterans and their spouses. 

Gilbert’s Memorial Day ceremony is one of the larger ones not only in the region but in the Valley.

For the second consecutive year, the Valley’s largest ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Cave Creek will not be held.

Last year’s cancellation was the first time since the cemetery opened in 1978, that no big public Memorial Day service was held.

While the National Cemetery Administration lifted all restrictions on large gatherings at all 155 national cemeteries in the nation, effective May 26, it said last week the action came too late to organize a ceremony.

Veterans national cemeteries will allow mass flag placements across the U.S. to commemorate Memorial Day.

It said volunteers wishing to place flags should contact their local national cemetery. The Cave Creek cemetery had no new information on its website, cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/NMCA.asp. It can be reached at 480-513-3600.

The cemetery will be open from dawn to dusk. 

The VA will also debut new features on the Veterans Legacy Memorial site in time for Memorial Day. VLM will permit online visitors to submit photos and biographical summaries of a Veteran’s life, along with historical documents such as award citations, letters, and newspaper clippings. Another feature will allow visitors to receive email alerts when new content is posted.

One event that will go on as scheduled in Cave Creek is the Flags for Our Fallen ceremony organized by RFidersUSA.

This is the 15th consecutive year that the men and women in the organization display up to 500 American Flags with an honor guard of hundreds of motorcycles and hot rods lining the streets leading into the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.

“Despite the current political climate and restrictions imposed upon us today, the brave military men and women of our Armed Forces who have sacrificed life and limb for the benefit of this nation, shall never be forgotten and will continue to be honored regardless,” the group said, indicating it will again tie special ribbons with the names of deceased and living veterans to the flags.

The gathering will be held between 6-8 a.m. Monday at 23029 N. Cave Creek Road.

Riders USA field headquarters will be located at the southeast corner of Pinnacle Peak and Cave Creek roads.

For more information about the Pat Tillman Foundation: pattillmanfoundation.org. For directions or information about Gilbert Memorial Park: gilbertmemorialpark.com or call (480) 935-5858. For information in Gilbert’s ceremony: hdsouth.org