Local Veteran Reflects on the Meaning of Memorial Day: 'It's More Than Just 'Mattress Sales, Discounts, and Barbeques'

This poignant story, first published a year ago today, captures one local veteran's thoughts about what Memorial Day means to him

Published : Monday, May 27, 2019 | 2:01 AM

Tomas De Oliveira stands with members of a small contingent of 100 Marines from HML/A-269 from Jacksonville, North Carolina in a Christmas Day 2011 photograph at Camp Dwyer, in Afghanistan. DeOliveira is standing second from right wearing a red hat.

To most Americans, Memorial Day is a holiday rooted in the tradition of honoring military men and women who have died serving our country. But to veterans and the families of service members who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms, Memorial Day is vastly more important and meaningful.

33-year-old former U.S. Marine and current Pasadena City College student Tomas De Oliveira spent a tour of duty deployed in combat in Afghanistan. For him, Memorial Day is a day to visit military cemeteries to honor fellow soldiers who lost their lives alongside him and to reflect on his time in the military — service to his country which, he said, he would do all over again if he could.

“I don’t get the same feeling that a lot of people do. When I think Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the first thing in my mind is not ‘oh, a day off’. The first thing on my mind is I got to try to find time to get out to the cemetery and pay my respects to the people that I know have given everything,” said De Oliveira.

De Oliveira enlisted in the Marines Corps in 2009 and was discharged in 2016. He still serves as a reservist.

He said joining the military was a calling for him and was a fulfilling era in his life even when deployed to combat in Afghanistan for nearly a year.

“What I didn’t expect was that feeling of, not so much duty, but more, like belonging,” he said. “Like what you’re doing [has] meaning and purpose higher than yourself — higher than just making my wallet better.”

For De Oliveira, enlistment meant combat duty. Combat, inevitably, brought tragedy. De Oliveira said he lost several fellow Marines, both men and women, while on the front lines.

This is the reality he lives with, he said. This is why Memorial Day, to him, is not a lighthearted day off.

“You’re literally spending 24 hours a day for your entire life of [your] enlisted career with your brothers and sisters in uniform. So when you lose one of them or somebody that you know lost one from a different deployment, it becomes more real than just mattress sales, discounts, barbecues, and fireworks,” said De Oliveira.

So De Oliveira spends that day walking among the rows of heroes’ headstones.

“I’m going to be there to pay my respects, take a minute to reflect and go back and essentially make peace and thank the people that I know who gave more than I, and reflect back on the people that I know that I lost personally,” he said.

De Oliveira’s time at Pasadena City College allows him to stay connected with local veterans on a regular basis.

PCC’s Veterans Student Association is a local resource for young veterans in the Pasadena area that provides resources, courses, a facility and helping hands for individuals struggling with the reality of assimilating back to civilian life.

“It’s kind of base where we all gather. We funnel from all over campus throughout the entire day. We feel very comfortable with each other from friends of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, and Marines. We all see each other as veterans, as people who have served,” he explained.

“I absolutely would do it all over again.”

All branches of the military contribute to the security of our nation, and many members of the service have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. For those looking to honor those who fell while serving or veterans who succumbed to their injuries afterward, the Pasadena area offers a selection of events with ceremonies:

La Cañada Flintridge Memorial Day Celebration, Memorial Day Parade
Monday, May 28, 2018 – All day event
Cost: Various
Sponsor: City of La Cañada Flintridge
Memorial Park
1301 Foothill Blvd.
La Cañada Flintridge
For more information call: (818) 790-4289
Or click here: lacanadaflintridge.com/events-page.html
In conjunction with the 45th Annual Memorial Weekend Fiesta Days, the City of La Cañada Flintridge will hold its Memorial Day celebration with a Memorial Day Parade at 10:30 a.m. then an Afternoon in the Park featuring Bounce Houses, Children’s Petting Zoo, Face Painting, Mural Coloring, Food for sale and Music in the Park at 4 p.m. kicked-off by Captain Cardiac.

Memorial Day Service and a Call for Veterans
Monday, May 28, 9 a.m.
Cost: Free
Sponsor: City of San Marino
Lacy Park
1485 Virginia Road
San Marino
For more information, call (626) 403-2200.
Wendy Glazier, a San Marino resident and former Commander in the United States Navy, will be the keynote speaker at San Marino’s acknowledgment of Memorial Day on Monday, May 28. The ceremony begins at 9 a.m. at the War Memorial in Lacy Park.

Vietnam Veterans of America Memorial Day Event
Monday, May 28, 10:30 to 11:15 a.m.
Cost: Free
Sponsor: Vietnam Veterans of America Post 446
Pasadena Memorial Park
146 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena
For more information, call (626) 795-8141
The Pasadena Chapter presents a tribute to the men and women who have died fighting or died due to injuries sustained during war.

Memorial Day BBQ and Dance
Monday, May 28, at 12 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Cost: $10.00 – $12.00
Sponsor: Pasadena Senior Center
Pasadena Senior Center
85 E. Holly St.
For more information call: (626) 795-4331
Or click here: www.pasadenaseniorcenter.org/
Memorial Day is a time to honor the nation’s military heroes. A Memorial Day barbecue and dance will be held at the Pasadena Senior Center. Doors will open at 11:45 a.m. The barbecue lunch will include hamburgers and hot dogs, with vegetarian options available by request, and all the trimmings, plus apple pie. Then kick up your heels and dance to popular favorites of days gone by performed by the Great American Swing Band.

Memorial Day 2018 Ceremony
Thursday, May 31, at 12 p.m.
Sponsor: Pasadena City College Veterans Club
At the Veterans Memorial Wall (behind the R Building), in the Alumni Commons, on the PCC campus.
All are welcome.

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