Local veterans to be honored at city ceremony

Veteran Ben Gifford, whose youngest brother died while serving in Iraq, will speak at the Nov. 11 event.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to the Malibu Times

The City of Malibu and the Chamber of Commerce will pay tribute to America’s military veterans in speech and in song with the 11th Annual Veterans’ Day Public Ceremony on Nov. 11 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Malibu Bluff’s Park. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

Last year, the Malibu Chamber of Commerce partnered with Pepperdine University and the ceremony took place at the university’s Heroes Garden. Among the Pepperdine military veterans who spoke were Marv Dunphy, the men’s volleyball coach, and Ben Gifford, a student of the university’s School of Law.

Gifford will return to speak at this year’s gathering.

“I think it’s great that the community takes the time and recognizes the sacrifice made by veterans,” Gifford said. “I commend the City of Malibu and the Chamber of Commerce for putting it together to commemorate all veterans.”

Gifford, 33, was born in San Diego and raised in Torrance. He grew up the second of three boys, alongside older brother Matthew and youngest brother Micah. After attending the University of California at Berkeley on a baseball scholarship and earning his bachelor’s degree in American studies in 2000, Gifford entered the United States Marine Corps and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in 2000.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Gifford checked into his first duty station at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and joined the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. As an infantry platoon commander, Gifford led Marines into combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He began his final tour with the Marine Corps in 2006 while with the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton.

His younger brother, who had also enlisted, was killed in action near Baghdad while serving with the 3rd Battalion 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. Micah was 27 years old when he died on December 7, 2006.

The death of his brother and what he felt was a disconnect between America and its Judeo-Christian values drew Gifford toward politics.

“It’s a very personal part of my story,” Gifford said. “I guess it’s close to two million Americans who died on the battlefield since the founding of our country. I don’t want to completely remove the significance from every person who lost a son or daughter. But certainly, there’s that aspect.”

In 2008, Gifford enrolled in Pepperdine School of Law while still in the Marine Corps. He was honorably discharged at the rank of captain after eight years of service on August 5, 2008. The Malibu resident-who resides here with his wife of 11 years, Sara, and their children, Kaitlyn, 7, Jonathan, 5, and Madeline,1-will graduate in 2011 from Pepperdine, where he is studying constitutional law under the guidance of conservative thinkers such as adjunct professor Bruce Herschensohn.

It is veterans such as Ben and Micah Gifford who spur Ani Dermenjian, who instituted the Veterans Day ceremony in 2000, to spearhead the Malibu-wide tribute each year.

“It has a huge meaning for me and my family,” Dermenjian said. “I wanted to do something really good for the locals and get as many people involved as possible. I wanted an event that united everyone.

Students from Pepperdine University, Our Lady of Malibu Church, Malibu High School, Webster Elementary School, and the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts troops will sing or present artwork at the Thursday observance.

U.S. Navy veteran John Payne will serve as master of ceremonies.

“He was my first emcee when I started this in 2000,” Dermenjian said. “He was great. Eleven years later, I thought I’d try him again.”

The speakers this year will include U.S. Navy veterans Brett Muilenburg, Katrina Franklin, Wayne Estill, and Nathan Sayer, and Brandon Smith of the U.S. Air Force.

“The value of bringing the community together to celebrate our military past, present and future in the ceremony is so huge,” said Chamber member Rebekah Evans. “It helps us all to think beyond ourselves in support of others fighting for our freedom. We are truly proud of this event and the constant effort to make it so special.”

This year marks the first time that this event will take place at Bluff’s Park, with its ocean backdrop and its centralized location.

“We were hoping to do it at Legacy Park but we were a little late,” said Dermenjian, who is happy with the location but intends to hold the ceremony at Legacy Park in 2011 and beyond.

A light reception will follow the program, which includes singers performing patriotic songs in between the veterans’ lectures.

Malibu Bluff’s park is located at 24250 Pacific Coast Highway (at Malibu Canyon Road and PCH). More information can be obtained by calling Ani Dermenjian at 310.317.9382 or the Chamber of Commerce at 310. 456.9025.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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