The chilly evening air did not stop veterans, active service members and their families from celebrating the 13th annual Military Honor Christmas Tree Lighting and Menorah Lighting ceremony, organized by Prayer Angels for the Military, at Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall on Saturday.
“Hanukkah’s a time of thinking about heroes,” said Rabbi Mark Blazer. “It starts tomorrow night. It’s a time of thinking about the first soldiers who defended religious liberty, the Maccabees. They were heroes and we have heroes here too.”
The audience, which included members of the SCV Young Marines, sat and waited for the tree and Menorah to be lit. Following musical performances by the Valencia High School Choir and singer Marilyn Hackett, Mayor Laurene Weste spoke of the plaza’s significance.
“We see the faces of our heroes, the ones we’ve lost, the ones that are out on duty,” she said. “The most important thing to them is preserving a life that we have. They think about their families and we want them to know that we think about them and there’s nothing more important than the holidays and thinking about home, that very special word.”
Former Assemblyman Dante Acosta, R-Santa Clarita, followed and spoke of his son, Rudy, who died serving in Afghanistan in 2011. Rudy was one of the many faces on gold, blue and white stars that dotted the tree.
Next up was special guest speaker Sgt. Tchicaya Missamou, a Marine and motivational speaker. He enthusiastically mobilized the audience, making sure “everybody warmed up before (his) speech,” standing up and sitting down with shouts of “I love America.”
“Let’s face it,” Missamou said. “Statistically, I was not supposed to be here.”
Born in the Republic of the Congo, he described his life growing up. He was born ill and premature, and became a child soldier at 11 years old. He was able to leave the Congo, eventually coming to the United States, which he added was the land of opportunity.
“As we speak right now, we have men and women in uniform fighting for our freedom,” he said. “Yes, it’s kind of cold right now, here. You guys don’t imagine what’s going on over there overseas. I know what it’s like to fight for war. I know what it’s like to fight for freedom. This freedom that most people take for granted – never forget, that every time we sleep, we got men and women who made a choice to protect our freedom.”
Presenter and Marine Combat Veteran Dick “Tarzan” Jeffrey concluded the evening by telling the audience that this would be the last year using a tree at the plaza. Before next year’s ceremony, Prayer Angels for the Military will accept donations for a portable tree to be used then and for several years after.
The ceremony closed with Hackett performing a quiet rendition of “Silent Night.”