Veteran Albert Guzman, even though he had fallen on hard times and, for a time, was homeless, made a promise to his father to honor him with a cemetery shrine imbued with the dignity and respect deserving of a military veteran.
So, it was gut-wrenching to discover, after the struggle it took to honor that promise, to find metal thieves had stolen the bronze vase from his father’s gravesite and ripped out each of the dozen bronze stars that decorated the granite plaque.
“It was pretty heartbreaking to see. It was disgusting,” Guzman said of the theft and vandalism.
Guzman went to the cemetery’s General Manager Curtis Woods to see if anything could be done to prevent the thefts.
“The challenge, as you can imagine, is the geography of our site,” Woods told The Signal Thursday.
“The geography of our park is huge and we try the best we can to protect it,” he said. “Even if you put up a 30-foot wall at the front of the park, the back acres are open.”
A security firm employed by the park locks and unlocks access gates and patrols throughout the night, Woods said.
“We’ve had thieves steal vehicles from our garage,” Woods said. “It shows you the length to which some people will go and, to that end, we try our best.”
Named general manager in 2013, Woods witnessed a similar rash of metal thefts in 2011 where he served in the same capacity at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bakersfield.
“In 2011, they stole some 300 vases,” he said, referring to Bakersfield.
Newhall’s Eternal Valley Memorial Park & Mortuary itself also was the victim of raids by metal thieves several times back in 2011, stealing hundreds of bronze vases, for the precious metal of which they’re made.
That same year, thieves stole at least 300 solid-bronze 8-inch vases — valued at about $150 each — from more than 100 graves in the Rose Garden area of Eternal Valley.
Woods said he visited scrap dealers in both the SCV and in San Fernando Valley asking they notify him if thieves showed up wanting to sell metal for scrap. He said he was assured they would.
Guzman served in the U.S military in 1974 and 1975, stationed in Okinawa. His father served in the Korean War.
“To me this was a very meaningful thing,” he said about the gravesite plaque. “It was so special to me.”
Guzman visited his father’s gravesite, he said, to share how he had overcome homelessness through hard work and how he had helped others who were homeless, he said.
“I went there to tell him all the positive things that have happened,” he said.
“Even when I was homeless I never did stuff like that,” he said, referring to the theft. “You have to have your dignity.”
In his climb out of homelessness, having helped others along the way, Guzman was honored with an award presented by the Home Depot Foundation’s Veteran Housing Grants Program.
He was also awarded by the Southwest Veterans Business Resource Center for his efforts to help the homeless.
Albert Renteria, Founder and Chief Executive Office of the Albert R. Renteria Corporation which donates a portion of its profiles to the Southwest Veterans Business Resource Center, called Guzman a “champion of veterans.”
“We have recognized him on several occasions for his tireless and never-ending compassion for others,” Renteria said.
All Guzman wants to do now, he said, is honor the memory of his father.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt