LA Observed on KCRW: Memorial Day

I usually take notice of the flags that appear on Memorial Day weekend to cover the grounds of the Los Angeles National Cemetery on Sepulveda. Otherwise, the holiday for me is mostly about the day off. This year, though, I have Paul Neubauer to remember. KCRW (89.9 FM) at 6:44 p.m. and online. Text after the jump.

Video: Flags on graves at Los Angeles National Cemetery, Memorial Day weekend 2009. View bigger

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Memorial Day is one of those holidays that for has always been more about the day off from work.

I don't spend much time thinking about the reason behind the holiday. But this year is different. I received email from the only soldier who I know personally in Afghanistan.

He's a California National Guard lieutenant, over there working with a unit of veterinarians and other specialists helping the Afghans rebuild their farming life.

Yes, California's biggest export, agribusiness, is part of the war effort.

My contact is more acquaintance than friend. We met through my LA Observed blog, where he used to post smart comments about politics and life in Los Angeles.

I've lost track of how many times he has gone into war zones. But I know it's been at least three times.

His email asked if I might take a moment today to remember a colleague who died five years ago, in Iraq. After I looked into his story, I knew I wanted to talk about Paul Neubauer.

Neubauer was a National Guard sergeant from California. One of those guys who stands exposed in the turret of a Humvee, manning the machine gun.

From what I can tell online, Neubauer was killed on patrol outside Baghdad by a roadside bomb.

He was 40 years old, and like everyone who dies in war, he had a past.

He had lost his job, his family and even his home to alcoholism. The National Guard, and AA, gave him a new chance.

He was respected in his unit, though not many of his buddies knew that he'd converted to Islam.

He told close friends it gave him empathy for the Iraqi people he was there to protect.

At his memorial service in Santa Monica, an Iranian cleric read from the Koran.

The LA Times obituary said that more than 400 people attended. Many of them from his AA group.

Neubauer is interred at the national cemetery on Sepulveda Boulevard, wedged between Westwood and Brentwood. Which, as it happens, is a place I know pretty well.

I've researched its past as the final resting place for Civil War survivors. Many of them walked to Southern California to live out their years in the coastal warmth.

There are 14 Medal of Honor winners in residence. A hundred Buffalo soldiers. Veterans of every conflict in the history books since the civil war, and some that aren't – like a Korean skirmish in 1871.

Hollywood uses the Los Angeles National Cemetery as a stand-in for Arlington, and it's one of my favorite places to visit and reflect.

If you drove by today, you saw 80,000 small American flags flapping in the wind.

They were placed at every grave on Saturday morning by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They do it every Memorial Day weekend.

That I always notice, even if I don't always think about the people the flags are honoring.

But this year I have Paul Neubauer to focus my thoughts a little. And I'm thankful for that, and for what he gave for his country.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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