By Rachel Wulff

FAIR OAKS (CBS13) — The easing of COVID restrictions meant a return to crowds at this year’s Memorial Day ceremonies.

Monday morning, the crowd stood at attention at Mount Vernon Memorial Park in Fair Oaks. Hundreds were in a harmonious tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

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“It’s a personally significant day for me and many other service members, veterans and retirees across the nation,” said Command Sergeant Major Rich Aller, who was the guest speaker.

Aller has served with the California Army National Guard for 23 years, half of that with the honor guard.

“We are a community-based organization, and nothing speaks to that more than coming together as a community and doing something as noble and honorable as remembering our fallen,” Aller said.

“I was in the Navy from 1943 to 46,” said 98-year-old Fred Sheller.

Sheller was in Nagasaki before the occupation of American troops and was exposed to radiation. He later joined the Air Force.

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“I’m very happy people accept us and realize most of us did go proudly to serve our country,” Sheller said.

Across town at Saint Mary Catholic Cemetery was a Memorial Day mass.

“Every Memorial Day we always went to a mass, wherever we lived,” said Susan Fiori.

Fiiori goes to honor her late husband, who was a 30-year veteran in the Air Force.

“It’s very important that I carry on his tradition,” she said as she wiped away tears. “Now you are not required to serve – and for those who do, we have to appreciate their service.”

It was a chance to remember them and pray for them and their families.

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“Why do I serve? Why do others serve? And why do we sign up to ultimately potentially sacrifice our lives?” said Aller. “It comes down to love of something bigger than yourselves, and ultimately comradery.”