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Tribute to Sonoma County men killed in Iraq, Afghanistan

  • Wallace Stewart, right, Larry Williams and Rich Robbins, of the Marine Corps League, present the flag during the Memorial Day celebration at Santa Rosa Memorial Park, in Santa Rosa, on Monday, May 27, 2013.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa school board member Bill Carle attended the event as a way to honor the sacrifices of military service members like his grandfather, Willard Carle, who fought in World War I. Carle's father was a Korean War veteran.

"There was a big price paid for what we have," said Carle of the nation's fallen soldiers.

Simmons said the bench was a way to memorialize the sacrifice of the 10 most recent casualties. He attended six or seven of their funerals while servings as a member of a veterans honors team.

Memorial Day In Santa Rosa

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"It was just heart-wrenching to attend their funerals and see their families," Simmons recalled. "They lost a big chunk of their heart when they lost their loved one."

Local veterans first received permission from the families to proceed with the memorial Gold Star Bench, so named because the Department of Defense provides Gold Star lapel buttons to the immediate families of fallen service members.

Simmons said he hopes the dedication will be one more way to help raise public awareness of their sacrifices. "There's an old saying, all gave some and some gave all," he said.

Seven of the 10 Gold Star families were able to attend Monday's ceremony.

Jacquie Cruz, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ottolini's mother, said, "some days it's easy and some days it's not." Ottolini, a 45-year-old Sebastopol resident, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in November 2004.

He was a member of the Petaluma-based A Company of the California National Guard's 579th Engineer Battalion that was sent to Iraq in 2004.

Ottolini's son told her he had to go to Iraq with the younger Guardsmen, she said. "He told me, 'Mom, I trained them. I have to lead them.'"


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