Veterans, their families and local dignitaries gathered once again Monday at Eternal Valley Memorial Park and Mortuary in Newhall for the community’s annual Memorial Day tribute, organized by the Santa Clarita Valley Veterans Memorial Commitee.
The event was attended by dignitaries including Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs, Councilwoman Laurene Weste, Councilwoman Marsha McLean, Councilman Bill Miranda, Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, and former Assemblywoman Suzette Martinez Valladares. Gibbs served as the event’s master of ceremonies.
“Memorial Day is a day of remembrance when we take a moment to reflect upon the sacrifices our military men and women made for all of us, but specifically to honor those wounded or lost in action, defending the principles, the freedoms and the promises of the greatest country on Earth,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs then announced the theme and purpose of this year’s tribute — honoring Purple Heart recipients.
“The Purple Heart Medal (is) an outward symbol and reminder of the bravery and wounds earned while paying the immense cost of freedom,” said Gibbs. “Those who received the Purple Heart willingly put themselves in harm’s way for their families, for your families, and for this country. Their actions and missions often carried out under imaginable circumstances deserve our gratitude, our thanks and our respect.”
The event began with a bagpipe-led color guard provided by the Ronald Reagan Marine Corps League, who also conducted the retiring of the colors. An invocation was conducted by Bishop Mike Stanley from the Church of Jesus Christ.
Following the pledge of allegiance and national anthem, two flyovers were done by World War ll-era AT-6 fighter-trainer planes from the Van Nuys-based Condor Squadron.
Vietnam War veteran Jerry Rhodes then gave a tongue-in-cheek, but also serious, recital of Memorial Day’s history and its importance.
“I’ve been asked to make my comments brief today. So I won’t have time to tell you that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, a day to decorate, with flowers, the graves of those who died on both sides of our Civil War,” said Rhodes as he listed other things he “didn’t have time” to tell the audience. “I really wish I had time to tell you how important these rituals and traditions are. That helped us to remember the price of freedom. Remembering ensures that good and evil are not forgotten — that we have an obligation to combat evil. A nation without a memory of its history ceases to be a nation.”
The event’s keynote speaker was Bill Hutton, also a Vietnam War veteran. Hutton earned a Purple Heart and a Silver Star during his time in Vietnam before going on to serve for more than 35 years in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he was awarded the Medal of Bravery and Distinguished Service Award.
“Today, we’re gathered here at Eternal Valley Memorial Park to honor the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country,” said Hutton. “Memorial Day is a solemn reminder that freedom is not free and we must never forget the sacrifices made by those who proudly wore our country’s uniforms.”
Garcia, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley in Congress, spoke at the event for the fifth year in a row. Garcia is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, flying combat missions as an F-18 strike fighter pilot from the U.S.S. Nimitz. He has over 1,400 hours of operational flight time and a nearly 20-year active and reserve military career.
“Not every nation in the past or present has enjoyed this type of unbridled freedom to seek what is good; many have been independent, but not free. Many nations have enjoyed a democratic form of government, but not freedom,” Garcia said. “Freedom is having control of your own thoughts, control over your own actions and when fully realized, those things cannot be taken away except for by intentional neglect, or lethargic spirits. True patriots, when given freedom, recognize that our lives are like mist in the air — it’s a temporary thing and we choose to do what is right for our country with our limited time on this planet.”
Trevor Morgan covers community, culture, health and breaking news for The Signal. Before coming to Santa Clarita, he was the online editor for Cal State University Northridge's student newspaper, The Daily Sundial. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from CSUN and an associate's degree in music from Ventura College. Have a tip? Message him on twitter @trevorwmorgan or at [email protected]