We can never replace the fallen veterans who sacrificed their lives for our country. Nor can we adequately console the families of those who gave the last full measure of devotion.
But in the case of the Freedom Monument Veterans Memorial, the City of Santa Maria and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce made a commitment 20 years ago to build an area appropriate for honoring those veterans and all who have served.
After two decades of continuous improvements and additions, that mission has been accomplished. The Freedom Monument has become a landmark that the community can be proud of. The extensive cost and resources to make it happen have been shared by the City and the Chamber of Commerce. The participation of veteran groups, businesses, nonprofits, schools and the community at large has been outstanding.
It took a substantial effort to identify and compile the names of the 113 Santa Maria Valley veterans who are listed on plaques and memorials within the monument area. The Santa Maria Historical Society provided extensive research to uncover the names of the World War I veterans. Through many hours of examining historical records and newspaper accounts they were able to conclusively identify the 12 veterans listed on the World War I plaque.
For World War II, the 55 veterans were listed at the Veterans Memorial Building and replicated at the Freedom Monument.
To reveal the five veterans who were killed during the Korean War, archival information and military records were searched. Vietnam produced 34 local veterans. These are veterans whose home of record were within the Santa Maria Valley, including Orcutt and Guadalupe.
Input from veterans groups and the community was also required to make sure that the list was truly inclusive. For the War on Terrorism to the present, the seven listed veterans were identified through public records provided by the Department of Defense.
The memorial area also commemorates all veterans who have served. Five large monuments were constructed, one each for the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Over time, plaques and monuments have been dedicated to recognizing women veterans, Cold War veterans, purple heart recipients, POW/MIA, a wall listing local veterans groups, and a monument to the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base (now Vandenberg Space Force Base).
Another very prominent feature is a large mural depicting an eagle and the American flag, signifying the freedom that so many gave their lives for, and so many veterans protected. Altogether, the Freedom Monument Veterans Memorial is one of the most prominent and inclusive monument areas that can be found anywhere.
In other efforts, the City of Santa Maria honors veterans through the Hometown Heroes program, where banners are prominently displayed within the city. They also have a policy to name new streets after those veterans who are listed at the Freedom Monument Veterans Memorial.
The 20th anniversary ceremony will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 7, at 10 a.m. at 600 S. McClelland in Santa Maria. The Freedom Monument Veterans Memorial is located in front of the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center. The entire Santa Maria Valley community is invited and welcome.