The 11th annual ceremony honoring veterans of the Armed Forces brought tales of loss and the importance of veterans being thanked and remembered for their service to the country.
By Knowles Addikson / Special to The Malibu Times
Strong winds drove the Malibu Veterans Day celebration scheduled for Malibu Bluffs Park indoors to City Hall on Thursday, but the spirit of the day could not be dampened by the change in venue. The City Hall meeting room overflowed with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, firefighters and Sheriff’s deputies, and veterans of the Armed Forces and others assembled to honor them.
Capt. John Payne, a 37-year veteran of the Navy and a Malibu resident, presided over the event as master of ceremonies. Payne explained how Veterans Day traces back to the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, which ended World War I.
“It was considered the war to end all wars, but, as everyone knows, that didn’t happen,” Payne said. Under President Eisenhower, and following the Second World War, the date was later enshrined to commemorate all veterans.
Pepperdine University ROTC members marched into city hall to present the colors (the California and United States flags), and Malibu High School student Gabriella Marino sang the national anthem. Next, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts led everyone in the pledge of allegiance, which was followed by a moment of silence for deceased veterans and a rendition of “Taps” by trumpet player Chris Armstrong of the Malibu High School band.
Payne introduced Navy Officer Bret Muilenberg, a veteran of Iraq and Bosnia. Muilenberg spoke of his recent visit to greet returning servicemen, and urged audience members who had never done so to come to a military base and experience it.
During his latest visit, he said, “There were probably a dozen infants out there, [with] the mothers presenting them to their fathers for the first time.”
He then paused to honor two deceased veterans, Joel Baldwin, killed in Iraq by a suicide blast along with 22 others, and Francis “Frankie” Toner, who died after an Afghan security guard opened fire on him and three other servicemen as they were jogging.
Brandon Smith, a Navy veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, next spoke about his reconnaissance flights in those countries, and the sense of responsibility he felt toward his comrades on the ground. He quoted the late Santa Barbara philanthropist Pierre Claeyssens, who was driven from his native Belgium by World War II: “To be killed in a war is not the worst that can happen. To be lost is not the worst. To be forgotten is.”
That sentiment was echoed by Pepperdine University law student Ben Gifford, a veteran of two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, whose younger brother died in Iraq in 2006.
“Thank a veteran, that’s all we want,” Gifford said. “Not because we think we deserve it, but because it’s all we’ve got. My medals just sit in my closet.”
Beverly Craveiro, director of the Our Lady of Malibu School Church choir, dedicated the choir’s performance to Monsignor John Sheridan, who died in August following a traffic accident. Rhythmic clapping from the crowd accompanied the piano during the choir’s rendition of “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
Bill Rhodes honored his father, a World War II veteran who died recently. Bill Rhodes, Sr. grew up the youngest of 11 children in Arkansas, and was an avid hunter. After enlisting, he was taken skeet shooting from the back of a pickup truck.
“To his surprise, he found out that people who could hit moving targets from a moving vehicle were perfect for gun turrets,” Rhodes said.
The elder Rhodes was assigned as a gunner on a B-17 bomber plane. Rhodes noted that “if you pulled B-17 duty at the beginning of the war, there was an 80 percent chance you wouldn’t make it back,” before concluding: “I’m the only son, and the baby in the family, and I couldn’t be more proud to be named William Herschel Rhodes, Junior.”
Malibu Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert, an ex-marine, credited his time in the service with giving him the discipline to succeed later in his professional life as a professor at Yale and Caltech universities. He stressed the nonpartisan nature of veterans’ sacrifice.
“We should never let politics get in the way of honoring our servicemen,” Sibert said. ‘They have served us all.”
Navy officer Katrina Franklin voiced her gratitude for the merit-based culture of the Armed Forces, where as an African American no one cared about the color of her skin. She led soldiers in Afghanistan, and said she cherished the sense of solidarity all servicemen and women shared by fighting for the common goal of democracy and freedom worldwide.
“There’s not a check they can give me that will replace that feeling,” Franklin said.
Wayne Estill, a Malibu resident who served in the Pacific Theater in World War II, spoke of how in 1941 there was no television to bring home the images of destruction in Pearl Harbor. He later saw Pearl Harbor after he had been drafted and passed training, and observed that the remnants of the attack were everywhere.
After a rendition of “Proud To Be An American” by Kenny Kynoch, a singer-songwriter born in Idaho, each veteran in attendance stood up and was presented with pins by Girl and Boy Scouts. The Pepperdine ROTC members then retired the colors.
Raffi Dermenjian, an Iraqi ex-pat whose wife, Ani, has organized the event for the past 11 years, said, “This is a dream come true to live in this country and appreciate all the positive and good things here. This is kind of an official day to recognize [the veterans]. It just keeps getting better and better.”