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Honoring California's 745 War Dead
June 5, 2014 -
This was our fourth year participating in the parade with Topanga Cub Scout Pack 24 and it has become one of my favorite mornings and something I look forward to all year. The creativity on display, festive atmosphere and community spirit is unparalleled.
CJ McDonald is the Den leader for Pack 24's Tiger Den. The Tigers are our youngest Cub Scouts, typically age 7 and in first or second grade. CJ lives in the northern end of Topanga and his son attends St. Mel¹s in Woodland Hills. CJ and his son were new to Pack 24 this year and we were simply ecstatic when CJ volunteered the use of his military truck for the parade. As you might imagine, for a bunch of boys aged 7-11, the opportunity to ride in a decommissioned military truck in the Topanga parade was a dream come true.I became aware of the California¹s War Dead* project a little over a year ago when I was doing research for last year¹s Pack 24 Memorial Day float. I was researching whether any member of the military from the local area had died in either Iraq or Afghanistan. As I suspected, I did not locate anyone from Topanga. Geographically speaking, the closest causality I found was a young man from Malibu who had attended Malibu High School. Although there was no individual from Topanga, the time I spent reviewing the statistics and reading the stories of California¹s War Dead made a strong and lasting impression on me.
This year, [my husband] Greg [Nylen] and I decided that in the absence of a military casualty from Topanga, we would simply honor all members of California¹s War Dead.
As of May 7, 2014, that number totaled 745. Seven-hundred-forty-five became something of a recurring graphic theme which we reproduced both on flags and banners and also on small lapel pins which simply bear the digits 745" without further explanation. Those pins, just as the pins the Scouts received at the last three parades, will now be worn as part of the official Pack 24 Cub Scout uniform.
Putting my skills as a jeweler to use on the eve of Memorial Day after a long day of soda sales at the Pack 24 Topanga Day¹s soda stand, I personally made 50 pins. Memorial Day morning, as the parade assembled, a couple of Scout parents and I passed the pins out to both the Scouts, Scout parents, Scout siblings and any friends we happened to run across.
On an aside note, some Pack parents object to the idea of Pack leaders having frank discussions about the realities of war with their Scouts. Greg and I don¹t fall into that camp; nonetheless; we try to be respectful and are sensitive to this issue. We told our son, Gram, specifically what the number represented. Personally, I believe very strongly that we owe it to our children to teach them about these brave individuals and to stress the importance of recognizing their service and sacrifice.
I am grateful to the Webelos Den for assisting with the making of flags bearing the number 745." We also had some U.S. flags to wave from the float.
Note: *California¹s War Dead is the collective title the Los Angeles Times has given to their ongoing project which pays tribute to the California service members who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001 to the present. Currently, that number stands at 745. Twenty were women. Nearly half were married. More than 430 children were left behind. The Los Angeles Times has made an effort to publish an obituary for all 745 service members. As an online project, they have also continued to collect and post the comments by those who knew and loved them. Hundreds of heartfelt entries as well as pictures and further statistics can be found at: http://projects.latimes.com/wardead/.