Written during his convalescence after a harrowing B-52 crash, U.S. Air Force veteran Jerry Adler read his account of the incident that killed seven men in front of the 400 people in attendance at Monday’s annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Davis Cemetery.
“That was a sobering and life-changing experience, but for the families of the seven men that died that day, it was a tragedy beyond description,” said Adler, who served as mayor of Davis in 1990 and was also a three-term City Council member.
Despite temperatures that climbed to the mid-90s, Adler captivated the crowd with his retelling of the low-level flight in January 1963 that ravaged the B-52, forcing Adler to eject from the aircraft, where he was left to be rescued in rural Maine.
Stricken with a severe case of pneumonia that left him unconscious for five days, Adler — then a senior navigator — would lose his leg. Adler says he is reminded every morning of the crash when he “straps on my new leg,” and he urged the crowd to remember the sacrifices made for them.
“Perhaps we should all be reminded more often of the thin line that we all tread, and of the right way to live, while we are on this side of it,” Adler said.
World War II veteran Ernie Head, 94, and his wife Marie laid a memorial wreath in honor of deceased military personnel following the keynote address.
“It’s great to have a keynote speaker that served. It was a great event. I come every year,” said Larry Pleau, an Air Force veteran, who moved to Davis shortly after serving in World War II.
Sponsored by the Davis Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6949, the ceremony was punctuated with performances by the Davis High School Madrigal Choir and the Davis Brass Ensemble and ended with the reading of the names of the 54 Davis veterans killed during action.
Master of Ceremonies Ted Puntillo — the director of Solano County veteran services — was one of many local politicians in attendance, along with Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza; state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis; and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.
Yamada — in her sixth year as a member of the Assembly Committee on Veterans Affairs — came straight to the Davis ceremony from the Memorial Day observance at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery, which took place earlier that day. Yamada said she’s “glad to see more and more people each year coming to this hallowed place. It’s a day both to recognize the fallen, but also to celebrate and support their families and survivors.”
After the ceremony, a free barbecue lunch was provided by the Davis Professional Firefighters Union Local 3494.
“This is the fourth or fifth year we’ve been doing this,” Fire Capt. Emily Lo said. “We’re thanking those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and it’s our way of giving back to the community and thanking those who served.”
VFW Post Commander Jay Brookman credits the free barbecue for the increased attendance at the event, which he said has nearly doubled in the past few years. But Gerri Milligan decided to forego the long line for hamburgers in order to visit the grave of her deceased husband Jim Milligan. Milligan, who died in 2010, served in the Korean War and rests in one of the 800 graves decorated with flags placed by local Boy Scouts before the ceremony.
“I come out every year, and it’s always very emotional. I’m so glad that so many people are paying tribute to those who fell protecting them,” Milligan said.