When Julie Kresse turned 16, her older brother, John Simon, bought her a brand-new record player and three records to start a collection with. It was a bribe, she said, to make sure she'd never start smoking.
It worked -- she was one of the few members of her family who never lighted up. But only three years later, she said goodbye to her brother for the last time.
Lt. John Simon, a World War II Army Air Forces pilot, was shot down over Germany in August 1944. Saturday, more than 25 of his surviving relatives -- the youngest just 2 years old -- gathered to honor him in Forest Lawn. The memorial service coincided with the 50th wedding anniversary for Kresse and her husband, Richard.
Simon, who was declared missing in action until captured German records revealed that he had been shot down, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Air Medal. His body was never recovered, and for at least a few years, Kresse and her two other siblings clung to the waning hope that their brother was still alive.
"When you lose a brother or a sister, it leaves an emptiness inside you that is never filled," wrote Simon's brother, Gerry, in a letter read during the ceremony.
Simon's two medals rested on a shiny granite marker in the Veterans Section of Forest Lawn as a color guard composed of members of all three military branches sounded a salute to the fallen airman during the afternoon ceremony. Kresse's three grandsons played taps following the salute, and other young relatives placed flags on the pink-flowered wreath positioned next to Simon's temporary marker, which will soon be replaced by a permanent one issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Kresse called the memorial celebration a "valuable history lesson" and a "lesson in family" for the many young relatives who were never able to meet Simon.
Deacon John G. Wick, who presided over the 30-minute ceremony, compared Simon to the prophet Enoch, the seventh son of Adam and Eve and grandfather of Noah, according to the Book of Genesis.
"He was a friend of God," Wick said. "He walked with God, and one day he vanished because God took him. But his family was gladdened in knowing that he left with God."