San Clemente march honors service members killed in Afghanistan as hometown heroes
(Tribune News Service) — On a sunny, hot Sunday afternoon, Sept. 5, hundreds streamed down Avenida Del Mar through the hub of San Clemente’s downtown toward the city’s Marine Monument at Park Semper Fi.
The crowd chanted, “ USA! USA!” and carried American and Marine Corps flags in tribute to the 13 service members — 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier — who on Aug. 26 were killed in the bombing attack on the Kabul airport while helping to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies. Ten were from a single Camp Pendleton unit, the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
The attack was the deadliest against U.S. forces in Afghanistan since Aug. 6, 2011. When news hit the local community that most of those killed came from nearby Camp Pendleton, several local women got together to send a message to the world that San Clemente is a military town.
“Can I help you carry the flag,” shouted Lisa Davis, as she jumped from the curb along Del Mar to help a man who had been carrying the large display with his arms spread apart as far as he could.
“I love nothing more than our country and the freedoms we have,” Davis said. “My husband was in the Marines at El Toro. He fought in the Gulf War.”
Davis’s enthusiasm was not alone. Others chanted, “If you love your freedom, thank a service member, not Washington.”
San Clemente has long been known as a military town. Marines are as much a part of this south Orange County beach community as surfing and President Richard Nixon’s Western White House.
Camp Pendleton has been a valuable neighbor since the base was established in the early 1940s, and the community has watched Marines pass through during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and, most recently, through two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have always loved our Marines,” said Tamara Fields-Seyhun, one of several women who planned Sunday’s march for the fallen. “We saw other towns organizing vigils and memorials for the Marines in an expression of honor. We felt the same way and we wanted to do something in San Clemente.”
Fields-Seyhum posted her thoughts on Facebook. Within minutes, three other women she attended San Clemente High School with — Laura Glynn, Julie Regenovich and Cyndi Martin — jumped aboard to get plans rolling and it grew from there.
On Sunday, the group began its march from the top of Avenida Del Mar at El Camino Real and toured multiple blocks toward the Pier Bowl.
Those at outdoor restaurants and in passing cars cheered and honked as the crowd passed.
“I’m here to support the fallen, those young kids that gave their lives,” said Mac Alvin, of San Juan Capistrano.
Once at Park Semper Fi, hundreds gathered around the Marine Memorial where Pastor Jim Glynn, a retired 2/1 Marine, addressed the crowd. He served in the battalion from 1976 to 1979.
As Glynn prepared to speak, a quiet fell over the audience as a Marine in dress blues pushing a walker made his way through the crowd toward the monument.
Retired Sgt. Wayman Nelson, 86, who served from 1953 to 1961, had come from Menifee to pay his respects. “These were my guys,” he said. “I had to be here.”
The names of the 13 fallen service members were read, with a moment of silence after each.
After the event, Jay Bellamy, a San Clemente sand sculptor, honored the fallen by building emblems of the Marine Corps, Army and Navy in the sand near the pier.
The Sunday tribute followed another vigil held Saturday and attended by about 800 at Camp Pendleton’s Del Mar Beach. It was organized by several Marine wives, whose husbands also serve with the 2/1 and were sent to provide security at the Kabul airport with those who died.
Pastor Jonathan Cooper, who leads The Mission Church in Carlsbad, officiated the vigil. A year ago, he also led a vigil for eight Marines and a Navy corpsman killed when their amphibious assault vehicle sank in a training accident off San Clemente Island on July 30, 2020.
“Here we stand again today on the same beach, grieving the loss of 10 of 13 men and women killed in Kabul, Afghanistan,” he said. “To the families, I can’t imagine your pain. Words cannot fully express the sorrow and agony your hearts must be burdened with.
“To the fellow Marines and veterans who have lost brothers, especially to you in the 2/1, our hearts ache for you,” he told those assembled. “I have no doubt you wanted to be there that day to fight a cowardly enemy, to comfort the injured and, most of all, to be with your fallen brethren. May your calling not be shaken so that our community and country may continue to have warriors like you to vanquish evil and tyranny.”
Saturday’s vigil also included a performance by country music singer Coffey Anderson, who has a song, “ Mr. Red, White and Blue,” that is a tribute to the toll Marines have paid in the fight against terrorism. Anderson had been scheduled to play a concert at nearby Seapointe Estates, a gated San Clemente community, when he offered to perform at the base event.
“Bringing everyone to celebrate their lives was good, and I really do believe that’s what happened,” said Divya Karl, who helped organize everything. “Families and friends got a chance to come up and speak about their service member and hearing the funny stories and being able to laugh was something we needed in the midst of the sadness.”
Those who attended also signed cards for the 15 Marines still recovering from their wounds during the bombing. Those will be sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
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