United on Memorial Day

Ceremony Honors Connections Forged in Sacrifice

Michael Bradford speaks at Memorial Day Ceremony.
Michael Bradford, vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Education, spoke at last week’s Memorial Day Ceremony. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Even if we didn’t know them, our lives today are shaped by the sacrifices of the people who came before us, speakers at last week’s Memorial Day Ceremony said.

The ceremony honored the 136 Gold Star Aggies who died in military service to the United States, and was held Thursday (May 23) outside the Memorial Union, the building named in their honor.

“It’s my honor to pay respect and recognize the courageous Americans who died in war while defending our nation and our ideals,” said Chancellor Gary S. May. “I’d also like to acknowledge those who came home from war with scars, both physical and mental, and those who never came home, with fates that are still unknown.”

American flags in ground outside Memorial Union
American flags — 136 in all — were placed outside the Memorial Union in honor of our Gold Star Aggies. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis) 

Shared connections

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Michael Bradford, vice provost and dean for Undergraduate Education, who served in the Navy for 10 years. He told attendees about a time when he met a man who had served on the same submarine he had, but years earlier. He asked the man, who was Black, what job he’d held on the submarine.

“And he said, ‘Well, the only thing we could do back in my day, young man, was to be a porter for the officers in the officers’ cabin,’” Bradford said.

Bradford, who is also Black, worked as an electrician on the submarine and later a member of the Navy’s military police — jobs he said wouldn’t have been available to him without the sacrifice of the elder sailor.

“So folks that we don't even know are operating in spaces that allow us to be who we are today,” he said.

In his remarks, May acknowledged his own barrier-breaking family member, a great-uncle who served as one of the Tuskegee Airmen

Those who gave all

Student reading names on stage at Memorial Day Ceremony.
Taylor Ledbetter, a second year political science major and the daughter of a Marine, reads names of Gold Star Aggies, including Sean Endecott Elliott ’09. In the foreground, Elliott’s mother, Cindy Elliott, looks on. (DJ Nicholson/UC Davis)

Bradford also acknowledged the Aggies whose sacrifices cost them their lives — those who, in the words of William Shakespeare’s Henry V, charged “once more, unto the breach.” He said Memorial Day and the memory of those sacrifices has a power to unite Americans.

“We all put aside whatever separates us and we stand side by side and back to back when called upon, and we certainly operate in that space to honor those who stepped in the breach for us,” he said.

Sean Endecott Elliott
Sean Endecott Elliott ’09

One of those Aggies was Sean Endecott Elliott ’09, a Marine Corps pilot who died in a plane crash in Mississippi in 2017. As part of the Memorial Day Ceremony, students associated with the Veterans Success Center read aloud the names of all 136 Gold Star Aggies. 

Taylor Ledbetter, a second year political science major, read Elliott’s name aloud.

After the ceremony, she met Elliott’s parents, who traveled to the ceremony with other family members. Ledbetter grew up in Carlsbad, where Elliott attended high school, and her father was a 23-year veteran of the Marine Corps. She spent several minutes talking with Elliott’s mother about their shared connections, and expressed her gratitude and condolences.

“It was really touching,” she said of meeting the Elliotts. “I was trying not to tear up.”

Ledbetter recalled her father’s many deployments, and said it’s vital to honor those lost in military service. 

“I think it’s really important that we remember them.”

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is the editor of Dateline UC Davis and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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