Richmond marked some significant firsts last weekend, capped by a moving and well-attended Memorial Day ceremony at the SS Red Oak Victory that included the dedication of the city's first Blue Star marker.
Brenda Silva of San Lorenzo told the gathering that she had always considered her recently deceased husband, who served on Iwo Jima as a United States Marine during World War II, a hero.
"All the heroes are still on Iwo," she said he would tell her. "And I have finally begun to realize that."
Noting that her two sons had seen duty in Afghanistan, Silva said, "My husband instilled in all of us that we should be grateful."
That gratitude was shared at the solemn ceremony at dockside next to the Red Oak, the historic World War II cargo ship owned and maintained by the Richmond Museum of History as part of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park.
The gathering sang along as guitarist Jun Simundo played "God Bless America" and "America the Beautiful" and bowed heads as he performed "Taps" in remembrance of those who gave their lives for their country.
The high point of the observance was the dedication of the Blue Star By-way marker, a metal plaque fastened to a large stone, that honors "the men and women in the Armed Forces who have served, are presently serving and will serve in the future."
The marker is a collaboration of the Richmond Museum of History and the El Cerrito Garden Club, whose
Sargent, who turned 90 in November, was honored for her commitment by Richmond Museum President Lois Boyle, a friend for more than 40 years.
Boyle, who presented Sargent with a ceremonial gold oak leaf, said the Blue Star project took about two years of planning, including creation of a "garden" of plants in containers surrounding the marker on the concrete dock.
"I'm just totally stunned and overwhelmed," Sargent said after the ceremony, even as she emphasized that, "It wasn't about us. The day was to pay tribute and honor all our veterans. Serving our veterans has become our total passion."
Sargent, who also led the installation of a marker at El Cerrito City Hall in 2000 and one at Arlington Park in 2009, said she is not done yet.
"As long as I'm able I'll continue to do whatever I can," she said. "There's still lots to be done. We need more patriotism in our country. It seems like too many people don't fly the flag on holidays now."
El Cerrito Mayor Bill Jones said he was proud that the two cities could collaborate on the project, calling it appropriate for a marker to be at the Red Oak.
"That's what I liked about it," Jones said. "The communities of El Cerrito and Richmond get together on a lot of things and this is one of them. It's just tremendous the crowd they get out here."
Jones noted that the ceremony was part of a significant weekend in Richmond that also saw the opening of the city's national park visitors center and the dedication of a two-mile addition to the Bay Trail allowing pedestrians and bicyclists a route to the Red Oak in the Port of Richmond.
Plans for those types of projects can take years or even decades to move from concept to the reward of realization, Jones said, adding that "Everybody works hard to bring that together."