May 24, 2007 -- La Canada Valley Sun


By Anita Susan Brenner

When I drive past Memorial Park, I think of Todd. His name is inscribed as 1Lt Todd J. Bryant, US Army.

I remember Todd as a fourth-grader, standing at the entrance of Palm Crest Elementary School. I remember Todd getting in trouble with a teacher and telling me, "I didn't do it." I believed him. Not that Todd was incapable of pulling a prank. Far from it. Even as a 9-year-old, Todd was a man of honor. Plus, his big brother was a Marine and Todd looked up to his brother.

So many memories. The golf club he shared with five of his sixth-grade friends. Those breakfasts after the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia. The jokes. The stories. Todd was charming. He was way too easy to love.

Whenever I drive past the park, I remember J.P. His name is inscribed as 2LT James Patrick Blecksmith. I remember J.P. on the playing fields at Prep and at Navy. He was very determined. One afternoon, we stopped and chatted at Annapolis Mall. It was always nice to see him. He was proud to be a Marine, like his dad.

And I remember his smile.

I never met the others. I only know their names. Pepper Fryman. Lorrie Engstrom. Billy Pedersen, Roger Rose, Jimmy Bauder, the Doherty brothers, and Munroe, McMullin and Barnum. So many names. Since World War I, men from La Cañada served in wartime. Most returned home to the Foothills. These men did not.

This week, we unveil the name of the first female casualty — Army Specialist Carla Stewart.

Long before they became heroes, each of these men and women lived, worked or studied here in La Cañada. They walked these streets, the same streets of our town.

They went to our schools: Palm Crest, LCE, LCHS and Prep. They played tennis and went to parties. They ate ice cream and read books.

They were young. They had friends. They had families. People who loved them. People who would miss them. All this was long before they ever donned a uniform. All this happened right here in La Cañada Flintridge.

They each woke up one morning, on a day like any other. Perhaps it was sunny. Perhaps it rained. They might have been in Iwo Jima. Or Fallujah. Or on the USS Coral Sea.

It was a day like a thousand other days. A new day in the world of the living.

They each woke up, not knowing that this day would be their last.

Not knowing that we would honor them.

I like to imagine this: Today is a day like any other in La Cañada Flintridge. Children play ball in Memorial Park. Suddenly, a soccer ball rolls out of bounds, it rolls past the players, past the grassy area. The ball caroms off a post and comes to rest on the south side of the gazebo, just below the plaques.

A youngster runs after the soccer ball. He rounds the corner. As he (or she) stoops to retrieve the ball, he looks up at the plaques and notices the names. Perhaps the child reads a name.

I like to imagine that this child whispers, "Thank you," before running back into the park.

Anita Susan Brenner is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident. She is an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner.