On Dec. 7, the annual ceremony at the Freedom Monument Veterans Memorial recognized Santa Maria Valley veterans who have died in America’s conflicts from World War I to the present.
This marked the 17th anniversary of the monument grounds, and it has transcended into a true community landmark. The city of Santa Maria, Chamber of Commerce, veteran organizations, local businesses, nonprofits, and community members have all worked together to establish this place of honor for the 113 Santa Maria Valley veterans listed on bronze plaques throughout the grounds.
Located at 600 S. McClelland in front of the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, it was originally established in 2001 under the vision and leadership of Bob Hatch, who was Chamber president and CEO at the time. The upkeep and additions have continued unabated with the Chamber, through the strong support of Glenn Morris, the current president and CEO, and the entire Chamber staff.
From the start, the city embraced the monument’s concept, contributed the property for it, and has been unwavering ever since. The Recreation and Parks Department, under the guidance of Director Alex Posada, has protected it, provided landscape and upkeep, and performed renovations as necessary to the grounds.
This year, businesses stepped up to help fund renovations to the monument and to sponsor the free lunch immediately afterward, providing financial or in-kind support. The lunch after the ceremony was prepared by Noontime Kiwanis.
Over the years, we have welcomed community assistance in identifying veterans who were casualties to make sure no one was left behind. The community of Guadalupe reached out to provide details on Phillip Hernandez. Orcutt did the same for Richard Landers. The Santa Maria community produced information on Charles Walker. All three were Vietnam casualties who were not originally discovered and recognized. These brave soldiers are now appropriately honored with the other fallen who have their names listed within the Freedom Monument’s grounds.
In going back as far as World War I, the Santa Maria Historical Society, through the efforts of Jim Zemaitis in particular, furnished the definitive background information to accurately list our World War I casualties.
Overall, the extent to which our community has embraced helping and honoring local veterans is truly phenomenal.
The city of Santa Maria has its Hometown Heroes program, in which banners with the names of local veterans are displayed prominently on its streets. Santa Barbara County’s 5th District supervisor’s office is the lead organizer for the annual Stand Down event, which brings together resources from the community to assist veterans and their families to get the support they need. The Veterans Honor Guard, under the leadership of Michael Stadnick Jr., provides ceremonial services for all veterans who have died. The Workforce Resource Center assists veterans in their job search and has incentives for employers to hire veterans.
Local veteran groups like VFW, American Legion, GI Forum, and many others provide support and camaraderie. Organizations like the Elks, Eagles, Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Rotary and Kiwanis also pitch in for veterans.
The list goes on and on. It makes an enormous statement when an entire community goes to such an extent to recognize and honor their fallen, champion our veterans, and to provide as much assistance as possible for veterans and their families.