Honored veterans from left, David Jackson, Toshiaki Watanabe, Gretchen Zovak, Mario Aquilani, Michael Reyes, Jack Crawford and Ronald Boudreaux pose for photos after the 9th Annual Patriots Luncheon presented by The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Clarita at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Chamber recognizes SCV veterans at annual Patriots Luncheon

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce honored local veterans at its ninth annual Patriots Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency on Thursday. 

Each year, the luncheon serves to recognize veterans for not only serving their country, but also the community, and this year, seven deserving veterans were chosen. 

“You think about what a true, courageous leader is, and you think about our warriors who come back,” said Fred Arnold, the luncheon’s chairman. “So, when you see a veteran, tell them how courageous they are, tell them how much they are helping lead the future … I am convinced that because of the leaders past … because of their guidance, leadership and encouragement when they came back, they’re going to be the leaders of the future.” 

Fausto Galvan’s Marine Corps Color Guard marches in with the colors during the 9th Annual Patriots Luncheon presented by The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Clarita at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

The event kicked off with traditional bagpipes played by David Champagne and a presentation of the colors by Fausto Calvan’s Marine Corps Color Guard, followed by both the national anthem and “God Bless America” sung by Lindsay Hough. 

“We have the highest concentration of veterans in California… that’s roughly 8,000 to 12,000,” said honoree David Jackson. “They say it takes a village to raise children, and it takes a community to welcome back our veterans.” 

Jackson said his family chose to live in Santa Clarita because of that and because it’s an “amazing, patriotic community who loves their veterans.” 

World War II veteran Mario Aquilani stands as he is honored during the 9th Annual Patriots Luncheon presented by The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Clarita at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

The luncheon not only recognized the honorees, but also all of the veterans in attendance as well as all of Santa Clarita’s fallen heroes, who were honored by a tribute video. Each honoree was then introduced and presented an award by the organization that had nominated them.

“As I look around the room, I see patriots everywhere, and every once in awhile, there comes along a whirlwind patriot who takes leadership everywhere he goes and convinces those around him that he is the true leader,” said Elliott Wolfe, founder of the Santa Clarita Veteran Services Collaborative, when introducing Jackson. 

Many of the honorees spoke about the thanks they get for their service, including Gretchen Zovak, who said she’s never exactly sure what to say. 

Vietnam veteran Jack Crawford, right, receives the plaque from his son Jason Crawford during the 9th Annual Patriots Luncheon presented by The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Clarita at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“‘Thank you for your service’ takes on a lot of different meanings for a lot of different people,” she said. “There are some vets that are uncomfortable with it … We do appreciate the thank you for your service, but what I like to do in response is to give people ways to support veterans all year round.” 

Zovak went on to give examples, such as supporting veteran-owned businesses or veterans who are running for office, volunteering for veteran organizations, or simply hiring veterans. 

“I have a purple heart plate on my car, and occasionally someone will come up and say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and all I say in response is, ‘It was an honor to serve my country,’” said honoree Ronald Boudreaux. 

This year’s honorees, all U.S. Army veterans, included Mario Aquilani, Ronald Boudreaux, Jack Crawford, David Jackson, Michael Reyes, Toshiaki Watanabe and Gretchen Zovak. 

U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Ronald Boudreaux, left, is presented his plaque by City Councilmenber Bill Miranda as Boudreaux is honored during the 9th Annual Patriots Luncheon presented by The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Clarita at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal
U.S. Army veteran Michael Reyes, right, is presented his plaque for his service in Operation Iraqi Freedom by Hunt Braly during the 9th Annual Patriots Luncheon presented by The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Clarita at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal
U.S. Army Intelligence veteran Gretchen Zovak, left, is presented her plaque by Michelle Kampbell as Zovak is honored for her service during the 9th Annual Patriots Luncheon presented by The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Clarita at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal
U.S. Army veteran David Jackson, left, is presented his plaque by Elliott Wolfe as Jackson is honored for his service during Operation Desert Shield/Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom during the 9th Annual Patriots Luncheon presented by The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Clarita at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

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