The largest Memorial Day observance in the Bay Area got a surprise visit from one presidential candidate, but it was clear in advance that it wasn't to be a political appearance.
Bernie Sanders showed up at San Francisco's Presidio cemetery Monday morning to pay his respects and honor those who died in combat and their families. But he did not tell his followers he would be attending the event, so as not to overshadow its purpose.
Sanders walked the parade route with San Francisco supervisors surrounded by Secret Service and camera crews. The former chair of the Senate Veterans Committee said he was there because it matters.
"Issues of veterans needs and the families of those who lost their lives has always been of importance to me," Sanders said. "That's why I'm here. ... I don't want to get political right now, if that's OK."
The master of ceremonies Lt. Col. Wallace Levin said he persuaded the Vermont senator's staff that Monday's observance was not the time and place for the campaigning presidential candidate to take the podium.
"I'm the one who made the decision that he wouldn't speak," Levin said. "I convinced them that it would be better for him not to speak; then it shows that he really cares."
Even after the ceremony, Sanders stuck to the nonpolitical agenda. Mayor Ed Lee, for one, was grateful Sanders didn't undermine the purpose of the event, and others in attendance acknowledged it was a positive gesture from the Democratic candidate to stand down.
"He took a step back from all the politics and things like that and made it about the veterans," said Joshua Deitschman, of Castro Valley.
Even some who won't be voting in the June 7 primary were impressed.
"It's pretty surprising for me," said 12-year-old Joseph Consolino. "I think it changed who I'm rooting for."