Families gather at local cemeteries to remember fallen veterans

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Local cemeteries were decked with fresh flowers and flags, in honor of fallen heroes right in our community.

Members of the American Legion Post 59, along with the American Legion baseball team, American Legion riders, and several community volunteers spent Sunday morning at the Holy Hope cemetery off Fort Lowell Road in Tucson, preparing for Memorial day.

They planted at least 800 American flags at gravestones, and staff tell me that's because that is all they had.

Many consider the cemetery "hallowed grounds", as they walked among the gravestones, reading the names of fallen airmen, marines, soldiers, and veterans from World War 2, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some of the grave markers were still fresh.  The stone had not even arrived yet, all you saw was a little postcard marking it's spot.

"Every one of these folks here are all veterans who have at one time written a blank check payable to the United States of America for up to and including their life," said Kurt Hinson, a chaplain for American Legion Post 59.

The cemetery grounds were a place where you were reminded that freedom is not free. Behind each gravestone was a story, and a sacrifice.

"My father, he was a proud American," said Terecita Ortiz, of her dad who died in 2007.  He served in the US Navy, and fought in Vietnam.

Ortiz said she did not like coming to the graveyard, but did so every Memorial day weekend, as a tradition, to honor the sacrifice made by all the veterans buried there.

Steve Aguirre, a member of the American Legion Post 59 said planting flags for all the veterans was extremely emotional.  His brother was buried there as well.

"Every time we put a flag in a vets grave, we salute.  We stand at attention and give the salute," said Aguirre.

A memorial Mass is set to take place at the Holy Hope cemetery at 8 a.m. with Gerald Bishop Kicanas leading the prayer.

Sgt. Martin Lugo, Jr. a 24-year old local soldier who was killed in Afghanistan during a fire fight in 2010 will be honored at the memorial Mass.

"He had told his family there was nothing other he would rather do than fight for his country," said Aguirre.

For many families visiting the cemetery on Memorial day, the weekend was a reminder of the bravery and courage shown by so many ordinary Americans.

"I look up at the flag and think how many people have seen it through smoke, thunder or fire and here I am looking at it on a bright sunny day.  I am so thankful for that," said Ortiz.

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