Hundreds of people turned out to celebrate freedom and honor our country’s veterans today in Old Newhall.
Flags were respectfully changed, then soared back to the top of their poles to snap in the wind; young girls sang, old men reminisced, a new citizen and proud Marine inspired and a community showed their gratitude.
At the fourth annual gathering in the Historical Veterans Plaza near Market Street and Newhall Avenue, the crowd filled the lawn area, spilling onto the bricks that surround the plaza, imprinted with the names of service members.
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Viet Nam veteran Dick Jeffrey served as master of ceremonies, introducing such young talent as the “Little Ladiez,” a quartet of high school students who harmonized on the National Anthem and “God Bless America,” and the Valencia High Junior ROTC exhibition rifle team, which amazed the crowd with their dexterity presenting rifles.
Wearing a USMC pin on his jacket, Jeffrey smiled broadly when a Marine in the audience offered a “Hoo-yah!” after a speaker. As a member of the Santa Clarita Veterans Memorial group, he made sure to acknowledge all the armed services during the ceremonies.
City Council members brought their own recollections to the podium, with Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean noting that she had sons who served in the Coast Guard, Navy and Marines and that she met her husband when he was in the Army.
Councilmember Bob Kellar remembered his adolescence in the San Fernando Valley, telling the story of a handicapped veteran who owned a dry cleaning store near Kellar’s place of employment. The two became friends and when Kellar was about to be deployed for Army service in Viet Nam, the man took him over to his store and gave him a buffalo nickel. The man, who had lost the use of his hands in World War I when German soldiers gassed him, said that the nickel had been carried by soldiers in World War II and Korea and returned to him when they came home safe. Kellar said that his first stop when his two-year deployment was over was the man’s dry cleaners to return the nickel.
Marine Sgt. Tchicaya Missamou, a Congolese native who became an American citizen, inspired the crowd with his gratitude for American service efforts to help his family and townspeople. He reminisced about his youth, when he met Marines that joked with him and challenged him to follow his dream. He asked one of the men “what does Marine stand for” and was told “We are the heroes of the planet.” The confused boy answered “like Star Wars?”
After the laughter died down, Missamou explained what life had been like in the Congo and what inspired him to serve America.
“Freedom is not a privilege, freedom is a right,” he said. “And everyone on the planet has the right to be free. America is the only country that stands for freedom.”
The inspiration continued as Sgt. James Sterrett-Bryant moved his wheelchair toward the podium, taking a microphone. A hush fell over the crowd as he slowly struggled to stand, a struggle soon forgotten when his strong, powerful voice sang “This Is My Country.”
The ceremony concluded with the dedication of two new plaques for the Walk of Western Stars leading into the Veteran’s Plaza for distinguished servicemen and Western actors Jimmy Stewart and Audie Murphy.
Mayor Laurene Weste, McLean and Councilmember Laurie Ender uncovered Stewart’s bronze saddle, which included the Air Force emblem and Mark Murphy, a cousin of Audie’s and the area coordinator for the William S. Hart Boy Scout Council, helped the councilwomen uncover Murphy’s plaque, emblazoned with the insignia of the U.S. Army.