They gave the full measure of themselves that we might live free. 

This Memorial Day, we honor and remember the legacy of our military heroes that didn’t return from battle. 

For most of us, it’s a once-a-year commemoration. 

Yet for the families of the fallen, the loss is felt every day. 

Today, there’s a host of places and events across Orange County where residents can go and pay their respects to the fallen and their families which have given so much. 

[Read: Memorial Day Events Across OC]

Throughout countless official and unofficial battles since the start of the Revolutionary War in 1776, generations of American men and women have given their lives to protect and defend the concept of a functioning democracy. 

It’s up to us at home to work hard to protect and enhance the democracy defended in so many far-away places. 

Between jobs, families and activities, it can be a tough endeavor to stay active as a citizen in front of the myriad public agencies we’ve all created to manage our quality of life. 

Today, we note the work of so many veterans here in Orange County that have put up a decade-long effort to create a local veterans cemetery – one that can be a daily reminder of the sacrifices made and the importance of defending freedom, both at home and abroad. 

“It’s really been their heart and soul that has led this effort,” said State Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who led legislation carving out funding and authorization for a state veterans cemetery in Orange County over the past decade, going back as far as former Gov. Jerry Brown. 

The Gypsum Canyon Veteran Cemetery Site on May 11, 2023 Credit: JOSE HERNANDEZ, Voice of OC

“We owe them a debt of gratitude every day,” said Orange County Supervisors’ Chairman Don Wagner, who has also become a local leader on the veterans cemetery by steering county efforts on the project. 

“Memorial Day is in particular a day to focus on this,” said Wagner, adding he just met with federal officials while in D.C. to get an update on the cemetery and noted he sees progress. “To have an opportunity to give back to these vets is a special honor.”

Yet it’s the years of activism by veterans themselves that really made the difference on the cemetery project, Quirk Silva said – something every Orange County resident can learn from.

Quirk-Silva noted that while a site was first debated in Irvine, when political gridlock complicated the project, the veterans “didn’t just walk away.”

“They stand together, work tougher and when they find obstacles, they find a pathway,” Quirk-Silva said.

She noted that after the gridlock in Irvine, veteran leaders with the Veterans Alliance of Orange County (VALOR) found another site at Gypsum Canyon just off the 91 freeway on county land in Anaheim.

Veterans then got every VFW hall in OC, along with all 34 city councils – including Irvine – to back the current site. 

“It’s the right place, at the right time for all the right reasons,” said VALOR President Nick Berardino. 

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Quirk-Silva also credited VALOR for working with county leaders last Veterans Day to erect a huge U.S. flag on the current site, which is visible from the 91 freeway – something she said that residents have told her has impacted them as they drive by the site – much like the painted American flag on the Prado Dam going back to the 1976 bicentennial.

County leaders have put the veterans cemetery on the top of their list in terms of legislative aims in Sacramento and publicly set aside $20 million dollars to help fund construction. 

This week, Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken also highlighted the importance of the veterans cemetery and publicly noted during her State of the City address that the state cemetery also will be in Anaheim. 

“Anaheim is honored to be the final resting place for veterans that’ll be in the hills of East Anaheim,” Aitken said during last Tuesday’s state of the city address. 

“Anaheim stands ready to make this happen in the years ahead, to honor those who served and to provide a place where we can all come together to remember their sacrifice and honor them with dignity,” added Aitken, whose father, Wylie, chairs the Voice of OC Board of Directors. 

As things stand, the state’s veterans affairs department is currently studying the feasibility of the site and is expected to finish its studies by October. 

Between the state, the county and potential federal grants, there seems to be an estimated $50 million in funding to start construction of the site, something that Quirk-Silva said is enough to get started on the project, which also will feature a nearby public cemetery administered by the local cemetery district and trails managed by the county. 

Could we see groundbreaking on the first phase of construction by next Memorial Day?

Stay tuned. 


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