Residents of Santa Clarita paid tribute to the veteran community under the seven flags of the armed forces and the POW/MIA flag in the Newhall Veterans Historical Plaza on Friday.
The 16th annual Veterans Day Ceremony was perfectly accompanied by winds that kept the flags flowing for all to witness.
The opening of the ceremony included a minute of silence, an invocation, the recital of the pledge of allegiance, a performance of the national anthem by Virginia Shemanski and a welcome speech given by Mayor Laurene Weste.
“We also want to take special time to honor those in Santa Clarita, who are residents who both known and unknown, who have served our country,” said Weste. “Additionally, we thank our current service personnel and their family, for continuing to sacrifice through courage.”
A unique aspect of the Veterans Historical Plaza is the flying of the POW/MIA flag to honor the Vietnam veterans. This singular flag in the plaza is what, as Weste shared, made one veteran walk from Sylmar to Santa Clarita to witness years ago.
“He said it was the first time since he came home from Vietnam, that he felt accepted in his country,” said Weste.
Weste said this is a story she will never forget: Santa Clarita is a place that is dedicated to making people feel at home.
“We want you to know that you are loved, and that you are appreciated by your country, and especially here at home in Santa Clarita,” said Weste. “So to our Vietnam veterans, welcome home.”
Weste’s speech was followed by a performance and the ceremony’s tributes showcasing two generations of veterans – Wayne Messick and Colin Shemanski. Messick served in the Korean War and Shemanski spent his time serving in Alaska.
In addition to the mayor and members of the City Council, the ceremony was attended by Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, and Assemblywoman Suzette Martinez Valladares, R-Santa Clarita.
As the “Song of the Patriot” faded out into silence, the Knights of Columbus Santa Clarita Assembly 2421, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 355 and Santa Clarita Valley Young Marines changed the flags of the plaza.
Robert Ortiz, a Vietnam veteran, was presented with the previous American flag from the plaza as a complete surprise.
“I was shocked,” said Ortiz. “It reminds me of the history of my service and the service of my father and grandfather.”
David R. Essex, founder of Ray’s Hope, was the featured veteran speaker of the event.
Essex’s grandfather served in the Navy during World War II.
“I used to hear all those stories and I was in awe of what he had accomplished,” said Essex.
His grandfather’s tremendous service and how he used it to build a family inspired Essex to enlist himself.
“Maybe I can make a difference,” he recalled thinking.
Essex’s service and the service of his family members is what now inspires him to cherish every moment that life can give.
“Please live in the moment because it’s days like today that are special,” said Essex.
Mayor Pro Tem Jason Gibbs presented the recognition of Gold Star Families.
“Additionally, we give our unending gratitude and respect to those who aren’t physically with us anymore today, but who will remain in our hearts and our minds forever,” said Gibbs.
Patsy Ayala, presenting in the place of Councilman Cameron Smyth, invited all members of each branch of service, both veterans and currently serving, to stand and be celebrated through applause and the songs of the military service.
Councilwoman Marsha McLean recognized the families of service members.
“These military families are the lifeblood of our community and Santa Clarita is a stronger, more supportive place because of all of you,” said McLean.
Councilman Bill Miranda concluded the ceremony by saying that Santa Clarita’s appreciation for the veteran community is not something extended purely one day a year:
“Veterans Day may take place just once each year, but in the city of Santa Clarita, Veterans Day takes place every day, 365 days a year.”