It was a beautiful, sunny day on Sunday as Malibu residents gathered at Legacy Park to honor America’s veterans at the 13th annual Veterans Day celebration. Loud patriotic songs resonated across the park as more than 200 people arrived, including a trail of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Pepperdine students, singers, artists and veterans of the armed forces.
This year’s ceremony began with a bang: a special flyover of two aircrafts from the Point Mugu-based Naval Airborne Early Squadron 113, better known as the World Famous Black Eagles, just as the national anthem and pledge of allegiance ended. The crowd looked up in admiration and applauded as the squadron soared across the blue skies.
Nine members of the U.S. Navy and two members of the U.S. Marine Corps spoke about their experiences during combat and the challenges they faced after returning home. They addressed an audience of young and old, mostly dressed in patriotic colors of red, white and blue.
The theme of the day was family, as veterans attributed their reason for joining the armed forces.
Malibu native and Construction Electrician Navy Chief Terence Juergens said he joined the armed forces to protect the nation for his children.
“You can make a difference as one person,” Juergens said.
Juergens’ fellow Navy officer, Steelwork Petty Officer First Class Kevin Johnson, said all his priorities changed when he knew he and his wife were expecting their first child.
“I serve to be able to provide for my family and give them what I didn’t have,” Johnson said.
Yeoman Chief Petty Officer Lidia Torres, who also served on the seas for her country, was born in El Paso, Texas, but comes from an immigrant Mexican family.
“I joined so that my father could live his dreams through my eyes,” Torres said. “I want to pay the nation back.”
She is continuing on, Torres added, for her own daughters.
Engineering Aide Constructionman Casey Smith, of the Navy, graduated high school in 2010 and said he misses his family every day.
“But there are two sides to every coin,” Smith said. “I make new friends every day. I get to travel and I’m paid to learn and evolve.”
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Marine Corps veteran Robert Joseph Ahola said, quoting John F. Kennedy. Continuing with Kennedy’s theme, Ahola said the country needed to change and “go from entitled people back to contributing people and stop expecting the government to do everything for us.”
He also reminded the audience about the problem of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that soldiers are dealing with upon their return home, the damage from which lingers long after their service ends.
“More than 38 percent of soldiers come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD,” Ahola said.
Rabbi Judith HaLevy from the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue and four members of the Pepperdine Ambassador Council gave the invocation. They offered a prayer “for those who have served our country and for their sacrifice.”
Patriotic performances by renowned artists had the audience engaged in sing-alongs for the remainder of the ceremony.
Award-winning singer and songwriter Kathy Bee, who has performed for Bob Hope and Bill Clinton, sang the patriotic ballad “I’m an American.”
Next, Our Lady of Malibu School students approached the veterans and shook their hands, thanking them for their service as “America’s Finest” and “God Bless America” played in the background.
Artist David Schwartz, who is known for using the American flag as a canvas, unveiled his latest work, “MALIBU.S.A.,” a rendering of Malibu landscape and the Malibu Pier with the U.S. flag.
Girl Scouts then distributed flag pins to the veterans, who received certificates from Senator Fran Pavley’s office while the crowd sang along to “America the Beautiful” and waved American flags.
The Malibu Chamber of Commerce, the City of Malibu, Pepperdine University, and The Malibu Times sponsored the event.