The blast of a rifle salute touched Isabella Perez-Marin.
As the guns went off, a bugle playing taps pierced the silence at Woodlawn Park Cemetery in Miami. Wi the 11-year-old dabbed her eyes.
“I was thinking how we can do anything we want, and we have freedom,” she said. “This is a day that we honor all those who died for us. ... I feel appreciative for what they do.”
South Floridians marked Memorial Day on Monday with trips to the beach, backyard barbecues and solemn ceremonies in honor of fallen veterans. Families and members of every branch of the military gathered throughout South Florida to memorialize those who served.
Sen. Marco Rubio brought his 10-year-old son, Anthony, to a small gathering at Woodlawn. Fresh off his presidential run, Rubio said he wanted his son to learn “that this day is about a lot more than a day off of school.”
“We take for granted that the liberties we have in this country weren’t free — that people died not just to earn them but to protect them,” Rubio said.
“May God bless the souls of those who gave it all — their lives in the service of their country, and to protect Anthony and his generation so they can grow up and live the extraordinary thing we know as the American Dream.”
Brig. Gen. Kevin M. Iiams, commander of U.S. Marine Corps South, spoke against the backdrop of small flags flapping at the gravesites of 2,000 veterans buried in the cemetery, 3260 SW Eighth St.
They served in the Spanish-American War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and other wars. The names on gravestones represent more than a century of warfare that has claimed the lives of young men and women, many only in their teens and 20s.
“They have given us all these days of American freedom, and it is only right that we should take today — at least this day — to honor them,” Iiams said. “We should all be eternally grateful.”
In Doral, about 100 people gathered to unveil a memorial to the 256 from Miami-Dade who died during the Vietnam War. It’s the only known monument of its kind in the county.
Norman Ralph West, 75, served in Company C, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment of the Army’s 1st Calvary Division during the war. West and his wife commissioned the monument, a bronze cast of the familiar Battlefield Cross.
Sculptor and Vietnam vet Richard Arnold created the monument using materials donated by veterans across the country. The monument’s boots, an original vintage M-16 rifle and helmet all saw combat in Vietnam. Veterans in Texas and Colorado donated them, Arnold previously had told the Miami Herald.
On Monday, West pulled a blue drape off of the sculpture to reveal the helmet, boots and upside-down rifle. He shed a tear and pulled his wife in close.
“It’s wonderful. Now there’s something here to commemorate the men who gave their lives to their country, their community and for us,” West said.
He donated the $4,000 sculpture in 2015, but it was put in storage until the city of Doral could install it properly.
“Finally, recognition for the vets who deserved a much better fate than they came home to,” said Brad Holt, a 53-year-old Army veteran.
In Hialeah, people gathered at the War Memorial Wall in Triangle Park to remember their own 70 military veterans who died in combat.
“Children should remember those heroes who sacrificed their lives so they can enjoy what they have today,” Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández said. “We also shouldn’t forget the sacrifice and the pain of the families.”
Liudmila González knows that pain. Her husband, Armando Ariel González, died in Iraq in 2003. She was pregnant at the time with their daughter, Amanda.
“It’s good to know that those lost in the war are not forgotten,” González said. “But that void is never filled. … The only thing we can do is remind my daughter what her father did.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Arturo Arias-Polo contributed to this report.