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Remembering local grads who have died in war

By Theresa Harrington
Monday, May 28th, 2012 at 3:43 pm in Education.

Mick Bekowsky and his Dad Brian Bekowsky in Concord.

While walking past College Park High School in Pleasant Hill today, I noticed a slab of granite with a plastic cup filled with water and roses at its base.

When I looked closer, I saw that it was a Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial honoring four College Park High grads who died in that war. I wondered how many people have walked or driven past this, without ever knowing why it was there.

In recognition of Memorial Day, I am posting what it says below. Each man who died is listed as a Falcon, followed by his rank, branch of service, birthdate, graduation date and date killed in action:

“Vietnam Veterans Memorial

College Park High School Falcons dedicated to their memory by family, friends, Falcons and College Park High School Vietnam Veterans.

This hallowed ground is a place to reflect on what they gave and what courage represents. Come here to share a memory, a tear, or the joy of having known them. Reflect here in remembrance of these men, who went before and those who will follow.

Barney Evans Boyer, corporal, USMC: Born June 21, 1945; graduated June, 1963; killed Sept. 4, 1965.

Stephen Donald Bartels, corporal, USMC: Born March 21, 1947; graduated June, 1965; killed Nov. 9, 1967.

Gregory Ellis Cox, specialist four, US Army: Born June 4, 1947; graduated June, 1965; killed Jan. 4, 1968.

Paul Phillip Sonstein, specialist four, US Army: Born March 26, 1946; graduated June, 1964; killed Feb. 21, 1968.”

As a reporter, some of the stories that have affected me the most have been about people impacted by war. I interviewed Concord High grad Mick Bekowsky when he came home on leave in 2003 to a hero’s welcome, complete with a block party in his honor.

His family was so proud that they invited me to share in the celebration. Mick was all smiles around them.

But when I talked to him outside, away from them, he hinted that he had seen things he didn’t want them to know about. He didn’t want them to worry about the dangers he encountered.

The following year, I got another call from his family. But this time, there was no celebration. His grandmother called to tell me he had died in the war. Since I was no longer covering Concord, I was not assigned to cover his death and funeral. Still, I was overcome with emotion. I sat at my desk and cried.

I often think of Mick and his family — especially on Memorial Day. Like the Vietnam Veterans memorialized by College Park High, I hope the sacrifice made by Mick and his family will always be treasured by our community.

On this day, I also think of James Coon, a Las Lomas High grad killed in 2007. Although I never met James, I spent many hours talking to his stepmother Marie Coon, who loved him as her own son.

Tragically, Marie was so despondent about the death of her beloved “Jimmy,” that she took her own life two years later. She told me in the months following this death that she wanted to be with him.

As a mother about her age, I cried with her, when she invited me into her home and showed me Jimmy’s bedroom, along with photos, memorabilia and a video of him dancing during a rally in the Las Lomas High gym. Her pain and grief permeated her being.

A plaque memorializing James has been placed outside Walnut Creek City Hall, along with plaques remembering other city residents who have died in wars. Marie and her husband Jim — James’ father — participated in a Memorial Day event when the city dedicated the plaque.

Marie told me it bothered her that many people didn’t seem to think about why they were getting the day off on Memorial Day. Instead, she said people often seemed more interested in retail sales and barbecues than in remembering the men and women who have died for our country.

Sadly, I know there are many other local grads who have died in wars. But, Mick Bekowsky and James Coon stand out in my mind because I was privileged to share their stories with the community. And the death of Marie Coon is a reminder that the casualties of war go far beyond those who die — since each death also forever changes the lives of those who survive.

What does Memorial Day mean to you?

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