Cupertino holds event to honor veterans, give thanks for their sacrifices


Andrew Pouliot, News Editor

A Coast Guard helicopter roared low over Cupertino, slowly buzzing the treetops as the crowd looked on from Cupertino Memorial Park.

The flyover was part of a ceremony held by the city of Cupertino to honor all veterans who have served in the military on Friday.

The ceremony was filled with hundreds of veterans from several different wars, along with their families and lines of uniformed deputies from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department and firefighters from the Santa Clara County Fire Department. A US Navy honor guard was also on hand for the event.

The statue at the Veterans Memorial was erected in 2007 by the city of Cupertino to honor petty officer Matthew Axelson, a Navy SEAL and Cupertino native who was killed during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan during the summer of 2005.

Donna Axelson, Matthew’s mother, spoke during the ceremony, stressing that the memorial wasn’t just to honor her son and the other SEALs killed, but to honor all veterans for their sacrifices.

“I didn’t want a memorial just for Matt,” she said. “I wanted a memorial for all veterans. It’s important for veterans to be recognized, because they do so much for us.”

The statue at the heart of the Veterans Memorial depicts Matthew Axelson and James Suh, another Cupertino SEAL killed in Operation Red Wings, kneeling back to back.

“The memorial is supposed to symbolize ‘I have your back,’” Axelson said. “That is what it means to serve, you watch each other’s backs no matter what.”

Chief petty officer David Noyes-Smith, a 16-year veteran of the U.S. Navy SEALs, took the podium to detail how he had deployed ahead of SEAL Team 10, the group which had Matt Axelson, James Suh, and Marcus Luttrell, among others.

“When we were getting ready to return to the States, I met Marcus and Matt and shook their hands,” said Chief Noyes-Smith. “They were excited to be out there.”

After returning to the United States, Chief Noyes-Smith said they received word that a fourman reconnaissance detail had gone missing and a helicopter had been shot down.

“We were stunned,” Noyes-Smith said. “We wanted to go over there and help, but we had a job to do. We had to escort the bodies back.”

Noyes-Smith was the sailor chosen to escort Matthew Axelson’s body home to Cupertino once it was recovered from enemy territory. “It was a moving experience being able to escort Matt’s body,” Noyes-Smith said.

“There was so much respect. On the flight back, when we were unloading the casket on the tarmac, I looked up and saw all these faces in the windows of the plane, looking down at us. I didn’t see any disrespect from anyone on the two flights I took.”

Chief Noyes-Smith and Mrs. Axelson concluded the ceremony with the placement of flowers upon the statue. The Suh family was present at the ceremony, where Petty Officer James Suh’s niece and nephew were escorted to the statue by two Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies to place their flowers.