Spirits renewed during Memorial Day ceremony in Cayucos

June 1, 2023

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 

Franklin’s memoir, “Life On The Mississippi, 1969,” is currently on Amazon.


At the base of the pier, people sat in a moderate row of chairs in preparation for our always small but intimate Memorial Day ceremony, which is also called the Lost At Sea Memorial. There might have been—some standing—a hundred of us. I sat in the back beside a man who might have been older than me, at 79.

I had missed the last few ceremonies and felt a need to be here, not just because I’m a veteran and member of a family that served in wars as sailors, soldiers, airmen and nurses, but because as a bartender in a fisherman’s bar in Morro Bay for eight years, I know of several men who died at sea, two in particular that were regulars, one of whom walked the point as an infantryman in Vietnam, and another who was a friend.

Being at one of these events dredges up emotions you rarely face. All around you are people of various ages and backgrounds, and always those proudly wearing T-shirts or ball caps signifying where they served.

I wore a hoodie and shorts and no cap. I feel that serving was a duty in my time, because nobody I remember ever “thanked” anybody I knew who served in past wars or served at all; you were supposed to serve. It was part of the deal if you lived in America. The manhood of that era shrugged off all adoration because of their respect for those who served and were lost to us.

But, sitting there, listening to the national anthem, and watching an elderly marine in full uniform regalia named Murphy read off an invocation and then a tribute to POW’s and MIA’s, I began to feel touched. Then the old marine began honoring all the branches of service, and when he started up with the army, and asked us to stand, and the army anthem was played, for the first time in my life, at such an occasion, I stood. There were only a few of us, but people clapped, and I suddenly felt embarrassed.

When I sat down, the man beside me offered his hand, and I shook it, and then, when the marine told all those who served in the Navy to stand, and played their anthem, this man stood (another small gathering), and when he sat down I offered my hand and we shook and laughed.

Then the old marine asked the “real men” of the marines to stand, and there was laughter, a few old marines stood, and their anthem was played. And so followed the Air Force and Coast Guard.

But nothing tears at your heart strings more than the bagpipes paying tribute to those lost at sea. Morro Bay was once a fishing port with a huge fleet, full of cranky pickups laden with fishing gear in back, and gnarled, fish-reeking fishermen trooping into a bar called Happy Jack’s after a few days of sea life with money in their pockets, ready to raise hell like cowboys after a long cattle drive.

The tributes continued on, ending with the benediction by James Murphy.

Then, for the closing ceremony, we trooped to the end of the pier, those older than me on canes, guided by their wives. A quiet time, still. Once situated, there was a blessing and we all got to touch the wreath before it was tossed into the ocean. Taps was played. Then rifle shots. And finally Amazing Grace.

Then, seeming to come out of nowhere with an ancient growl, came three planes of WWI vintage, pealing over the pier as we all looked up, and the missing man plane veered off to the right and eventually disappeared into the foothills.

So simple. I don’t know why, but walking home I felt suffused with good will toward everything and everybody, felt renewed and safe, united with fellow citizens, and released from the rancor that has seized our country.

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I went to the ceremony at the Arroyo Grande Cemetery, and I’m glad I did. Then went to American Legion Post #136 in Arroyo Grande for lunch. OEF 2009-2010; OJG 2013-2014 and OJG 2018.

Dell, having served 18 months in vietnam I fully appreciate the mix of emotions. On one hand you feel you just want to remain under the radar about any past service. Other times it is like you want to be proud of what you and all other veterans gave.

Maybe it is unique to the vietnam period military because we were advised by our peers to keep a very low profile, which was very easy since you were going to either be disrespected or shunned should your military background be known.

I went through 4 years of college without anyone knowing of my 3 1/2 years of military service. I survived my time in vietnam and my time at home. No complaints! We moved on.

Well said Dell, well said.