Veterans recount their service and thank everyone for their support.
By Ben Marcus / Special to The Malibu Times
While Americans around the state and the country, and the world, remembered America’s veterans with ceremonies, parades, concerts and protests on Saturday, Malibu held its celebration indoors with songs, dance, speeches, past memories and immediate hopes for peace.
Approximately 70 Malibu citizens joined about a dozen veterans in the Chamber of Commerce meeting room to remember the veterans who had served to protect America, and to thank them for their courage and sacrifice. There was a great deal of red, white and blue in the room, a few military uniforms and all ages as former Chamber President Christine Rodgerson and Malibu Mayor Ken Kearsley welcomed everyone.
Lee Reherman, who is not a military veteran, but is a veteran of the NFL and “American Gladiator,” served as master of ceremonies. Reherman helped keep a somber day light as the Naval Base Ventura County Military Ceremonial Unit from Point Mugu posted the colors, Amber Asfour sang the National Anthem, Malibu Cub Scout Pack 119 led the flag salute and Pastor Robert Wolff of Malibu Vineyard Church read the invocation.
There were representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, and also fourth and fifth graders from Point Dume Marine Science School who presented a patriotic banner. Two girls from the school took the stage and said: “Point Dume wants to give a special thank you for being so brave, and protecting our country… we would like to salute the men and women who keep us safe.”
The girls saluted as the crowd applauded.
Petty Officer First Class Scott Wagenseller, a resident of Pacific Palisades, attended the ceremony on Saturday. Wagenseller attended USC and worked in law enforcement before joining the Navy, where he is responsible for security on five bases in San Diego. He encouraged the audience to help the VA Hospital in Los Angeles establish a hotel where family members could stay on hospital grounds while their family members receive treatment. He asked people to write letters to local representatives or to contact the local American Legion.
“I hope that some of the stories you here today will inspire you to help some of the veterans who have given so much for our country,” he said.
Richard Carroll, who joined the Army at age 17, talked about the three years he served in the 1970s. After his military service, he worked at the World Trade Center until 1978 before moving to Malibu, where he now works in facilities management at Pepperdine University. Carroll lost many friends at the towers on 9/11.
“It’s an honor to be here today and I want to thank you for your patriotism and support,” he said.
“American Idol” contender David Robinson Hicks led the Malibu United Methodist Church Youth Group in a singing and dancing rendition of his song, “Lady Liberty.”
Reherman then introduced Leonard Zahn, a World War II veteran who served as an Army Air Corps officer in the South Pacific.
“It’s an honor to be here, and let me tell you despite my youthful appearance, I did serve in World War II,” Zahn said joking.
Zahn, a Malibu resident for a year and a half, recounted his war experience, “leaving the unpleasant parts out.”
He was 19 years old on Dec. 8, 1941, a day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, which was to his generation what 9/11 is to this one, a call to arms. At the time, one had to be 21 to enlist in the military without parental permission, but Zahn persuaded his parents and that began an experience that took him from his native Massachusetts to the tropical heat of Miami, Fla. to the frozen tundra of Sioux Falls, S.D. before being shipped to the South Pacific. At the end of his speech, Zahn showed a waterproof silk map that all airmen carried when they flew over enemy territory. After the ceremony, Zahn, when asked what he thought of the present situation in the Middle East, said: “It’s obviously a mess. We are getting in deeper, if that is at all possible. We certainly aren’t solving it and the Sunnis and the Shiites hate each other. They worship the same God. I talk about hate. This is a maniacal, all consuming hate. I remember being in Japan and training for a month when we heard of the two secret bombs that were dropped on Japan. We knew it was over and were so relieved.”
Marine Corps veteran Darrel Eriksen, who is the current director of admissions at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Management, took the stage and spoke of his service.
“I was privileged to wear the uniform of a United States Marine and serve my fellow Recon Marines and the United States,” he said.
Eriksen read a presidential citation for a Marine Private First Class Robert H. Jenkins, Jr., who was awarded the Medal of Honor for diving on a hand grenade, saving the lives of his Recon Marines while sacrificing his own. This came on the same day that the White House announced awarding the Medal of Honor to Cpl. Jason Dunham who died April 22, 2004, from wounds suffered when he dove on a hand grenade and saved two friends.
Army Veteran Harry Shaw spoke for the Veteran’s Foundation and Margo Neal of the Rotary Club read the somber World War I poem, “In Flander’s Fields,” by John McCrae.
The ceremony closed with a singing of “America the Beautiful,” and then the Naval Base Ventura County Military Ceremonial Unit, which stood at attention for the hour and a half ceremony, retired the colors as three generations of veterans mingled with three generations of civilians and shared stories about their service.