Pfc. Richard Landers’ family will always remember May 2, 1968, as the day he was killed in action during the Vietnam War.
Now, they can remember Dec. 7, 2017, as the day their father, brother and loved one joined other Santa Maria Valley heroes who are forever remembered as part of the Santa Maria Freedom Monument Veterans' Memorial.
Each Dec. 7, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and the city of Santa Maria honor and remember fallen veterans from the Santa Maria area at the Freedom Monument in front of the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center with a wreath-laying ceremony.
“This freedom monument represents a commitment from our community to assure that all fallen veterans are appropriately remembered,” said Dave Cross, master of ceremonies.
That commitment was continued Thursday, Pearl Harbor Day, when officials unveiled a new plaque, adding Landers to the list of 113 veterans from the valley who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The 19-year-old Orcutt man, who attended school in Santa Maria, was killed when Viet Cong forces attacked the coastal side of the base that he was assigned to.
At the time of his death, Landers had two sons, James and Jeffery; and his wife, Diana, was pregnant with a daughter, Lisa, who never knew her father.
He was also survived by four brothers and three sisters.
On Thursday morning, Landers’ daughter along with his son Jeffery, two of his brothers and his twin sister gathered to see their loved one permanently added to the list of heroes.
Alfred Landers, Richard’s brother, told the gathering that the day his family learned Richard had been killed was a sad one.
“I saw my mother turn into an old woman the day she found out she lost her son,” Landers said.
During the ceremony, the Landers family took the opportunity to pass on some of the honors Richard received for his service to two of his children.
Also, local leaders contemplated the meaning of service and heroism.
Mayor Alice Patino said she was proud of the city’s commitment to honor veterans because their service and sacrifice is what secures the freedom needed for Santa Maria to grow.
Santa Barbara County 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino suggested that the word hero may have lost some of its splendor as athletes and comic book characters are given the title.
“Webster defines hero as, courageous, bold, lionhearted,” Lavagnino said. “The actions of Pfc. Landers on May 2, 1968, were absolutely courageous and lionhearted.”
After Thursday morning’s ceremony concluded, another celebration of heroes began.
The traveling "Remembering Our Fallen" exhibit opened inside the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, and will be available for viewing from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Tuesday.
The exhibit includes photographs and information about service men and women from California who have died serving our country since the War on Terror began.
The exhibit includes about 750 names.
This is the second year the traveling exhibit has been hosted at the center. New this year, Coastal Voices will present a free vocal performance at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Visitors to the exhibit can also write thank-you letters to those currently serving our country.