From 1965 to 1968, the William S. Hart Senior High School band would prepare for the annual trip to Eternal Valley for Memorial Day services. We played "The Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful" and some marches by John Philip Sousa.
The highlight of every year was when a World War I veteran would sing a barracks song from that war, called "My Buddy." His voice cracked, and we didn't think he should be on the same stage with us.
In reality, not one of us in the band deserved to be on the stage with him.
Once the ceremony was over, we would all get back on the bus and return to Hart High. The rest of the day we got to have off with everyone else.
Now, I have written often of the A&W Root Beer place at 24030 San Fernando Road just after you crossed the tracks on the way to ... well, San Fernando. Today we call it Newhall Avenue, and there is an ARCO gas station just past where the A&W used to sit.
We would pull in and wait for the car hop. Sometimes it was Loren Elmore, because his father, Vaughn, owned the place. Loren's mother, Lorraine, could also be there to greet us.
The burgers were great, and if I can read the menu from the picture, I see that nothing cost more than $1. Can you make out the prices? By the way, the picture was from opening day on April 20, 1960, and the little girl is Sheila Elmore in a car hop uniform.
Another picture shows Loren's mother ready to take your order. There was nothing like a mug of ice-cold A&W Root Beer on a hot day. By June of 1961, you could park in the shade and enjoy your burger and root beer in the famous frosted mug. Hey, how many of you have a "kids'" mug that you just happened to keep instead of putting it on the tray?
I'm confessing now, Loren. I had one of those little mugs. It was lost in the many moves I've made over the years.
There is also a view of the place looking toward downtown Newhall. The view is from Arch Street and Newhall Avenue, right about where the ARCO station sits today.
Loren sent along some pictures of the interior, too. I imagine the modern fast-food places have things that are upgraded from what you can see in those pics. Of all the jobs I've had over the years, I've never worked in the fast-food industry. I have been a waiter. That was a great job.
From the A&W, we would cruise to the Hi Chic and back, or maybe drive past Hart High. We would also stop at the Bamboo Inn on Spruce Street near the American Theater. The Bamboo served great food but was lost in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. The location is under the west end of the new downtown library.
Back to the Memorial Day ceremony. We would sit there in our uniforms that were made for marching in arctic temperatures. They were hot and heavy and smelled of the last season of football, a few parades and the bottom of the band lockers. By the time we left Eternal Valley, we could have cleared the crew out of an old diesel-powered submarine on odor alone. "Ripe" would be a kind word. During the summer, the uniforms would be cleaned.
But we looked presentable, played the music well, and got to hear a man sing of the "buddies" he left behind. I wish I had asked him about his war.
I remember hearing about the death of the last veteran of the Civil War and the Spanish American War. All of the WWI vets are gone now, too. Most of the Greatest Generation veterans of WWII are gone, as well. In fact, Korean War vets are also getting a little scarce.
My generation is next. I pray we don't have a reason to go to war again someday. I know Americans will fight again if necessary. Our freedom doesn't come cheap ... row upon row of headstones in Flanders Fields and Normandy, Arlington and in places known only to God where our fighting men and women are sleeping in peace today, knowing they gave everything so we can be free.
On Memorial Day we honor them. Each and every one. No matter the age, all deserve to know they are "My Buddy."
Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his commentaries, published on Tuesdays and Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].
1. At 24020 Newhall Avenue.