In every direction one could turn at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at Bella Vida, attendees were reminded of those who have served in the nation’s armed forces. Many in the crowd wore hats and shirts with the title “veteran” on them. Others wore the stripes, stars and colors of the U.S. flag.
The service of those who valiantly fought in the Vietnam War were welcomed and honored at Bella Vida on March 29, National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
“It is our duty as citizens to honor your service and to remember to be grateful for the sacrifices that you made,” said Mayor Jason Gibbs. “The price of freedom really is we must never forget.”
The day before the event, the Santa Clarita City Council acknowledged National Vietnam War Veterans Day on the record at the council meeting.
Gibbs, Councilwoman Marsha McLean, Councilwoman Laurene Weste and Councilman Bill Miranda were in attendance of the event. Representatives from the offices of Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, were also in attendance.
As attendees took their last bites from their cheeseburgers and salads, Kevin MacDonald, executive director of the SCV Senior Center, and veteran RJ Kelly introduced the event.
Representatives of the Marine Corps League marched to the stage chanting “left, right, left,” to present the flags.
Right hands were raised, placed on chests and raised in a salute. Hats were removed in acknowledgment.
Bruce Millhench, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 355, led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Steve Blumenfeld, vice president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 355, read aloud the signifiers of the Person of War/Missing in Action table that was set up right next to the podium for all to see.
The one empty seat is left as such, acknowledging all who have not been returned home from war.
Blumenfeld said that many are still lost, but the journey to bring them home is an ongoing effort.
“They’re still looking and they’re still coming home,” said Blumenfeld.
Weste and James McCarthy led the audience in song, singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “God Bless America.”
The lyrics, “You’re the emblem of the home I love, the home of the free and the brave,” filled the room as attendees sang in unison.
Weste moved from singing to her speech, honoring and expressing her gratitude to all of those who served.
On behalf of the city, Weste presented each veteran in attendance with a commemorative dog tag marking 50 years since the Vietnam War. Each dog tag read a thank you from the city for their service and welcoming them home.
“I am proud to know you,” said Weste. “I’m proud of the stability of our country and the great job that you did and I’m so proud to have you here in Santa Clarita, continuing on making this a great country. God bless each and every one of you.”
Kelly took the stage once again to honor a group that is often forgot about in celebrating the efforts of veterans – the women.
Kelly said that women played two crucial parts in the fight, being a part of the service and providing support to the veterans when they returned home.
“I’d like you to honor them, along with the rest of us,” said Kelly.
Mayra Duarte served 10 years in the Air Force and is an Iraq War veteran. At the event, the Quilts of Valor Foundation presented her a quilt to honor her for efforts.
“We applaud you and we hope to honor you with this quilt,” said member Donna Kiger. “Please note that this quilt is meant to convey comfort and appreciation for your sacrifice to your country.”
Duarte said this was the first time she was honored for her service.
Vietnam veteran Dave Narvell was also presented a quilt of valor for his service in the Marine Corps.
Representatives from the offices of Garcia, Barger and Wilk all presented Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 355 with proclamations and certificates.
“Our freedom is not guaranteed and must be safeguarded,” read Wilk’s certificate.
Kelly announced at the end that the event will become an annual occasion, never forgetting the battles that were fought.