The 17th annual lighting of the Military Honor Christmas Tree & Menorah at the Veterans Memorial Plaza in Old Town Newhall was attended by veterans, both past and present, and local dignitaries on Saturday.
The event was once again hosted by local nonprofit Prayer Angels for the Military with assistance from the Junior Marines. The night’s master of ceremonies was Fred Gruchalla — a U.S. Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War — who introduced the first guest speaker, Rabbi Mark Blazer, following a performance by the Valencia High School choir.
“Over the years, I’ve been able to participate in this event, it’s an honor, because this is a time of celebrating our community, our traditions, or holidays,” said Blazer. “Most importantly, the people who’ve served, defended this country and given their lives to make sure we have those freedoms. So this brings everything together.”
City Councilwoman Marsha McLean also gave a short speech, in which she detailed her family’s history of serving in the armed forces and expressed her gratitude to other veterans.
“My family goes way back, my father served in World War II, my brother served and my son served, my husband has served,” said McLean. “Our son flew helicopters in Iraq, and he recently retired as a major from the Marine Corps. So I have a very, very proud military family. And we should always, always be very proud and never forget the sacrifices.”
McLean said having both the menorah and a Christmas tree placed next to one another was an intentional symbol of religious and cultural unity with the SCV.
“This is a very important event here this evening, where we kick off the Christmas season and pretty soon the Hanukkah season,” said McLean. “I am so pleased that we have our Christmas tree and menorah behind us to show that we are not divided, that we are one, that we all live can live together in peace and we must never ever forget that and we must always fight for that.”
Rober Heinisch, of the National Executive Committee for the American Legion, pointed out Congress’ recent recognition of the Cold War – and skirmishes associated with it – as wartime service, saying, “It’s about time”. He also took a moment to have the audience recognize the veterans sitting among them, their families, and the ones who never made it home.
The event’s keynote speaker was 98-year-old World War II veteran Barney Leone, who served in the South Pacific – including the Battle of Iwo Jima. Leone was a witness to the famous flag raising on Mount Suribachi and still carries a flag that flew above the ship he was stationed on.
Leone made it clear that he was not there to speak about himself, but rather speak on behalf of the approximately 7,000 Marines who never made it off the island.
“They died for me, they died for you, they died for the United States of America, every one of us. I’m not here so much to talk about myself. I consider myself a survivor,” said Leone. “The real heroes are the ones that lay down their lives for you. For me, for us all. And every time we come here to talk about the war, we want to remember those men who never came home. So we’re thankful for their sacrifice that we have our freedom here.”