Night view of Saddleback College’s Veterans Memorial (Lariat Staff)
Behind every monument are its thinkers, builders and admirers. When the plans to build a Veterans Memorial at Saddleback College first came to light over 8 years ago, few saw the potential of the once-bare lot nestled in the corner of the campus’ quad.
But for former college president Richard McCullough and the hundreds of veterans who call the campus home, there was no better way to honor the brave men and women who fight for our freedoms than to erect the biggest veterans memorial found in any college campus in the nation.
With every shuffle of paperwork and each drop of sweat the foundation grew and took form. As time progressed, each brick laid, slowly modeled the final product, until an evident silhouette of earth tones from the bricks reflected back during the golden hours of the afternoon sun.
“I can fondly remember talks with [former Saddleback College president] Rich [Mcullough] – I was so impressed with how every time I visited the campus they had built a little more on the memorial, brick by brick,” said Irvine Valley College President Glenn Roquemore.
As the crowd sang to our nation’s anthem, eyes fixed on the flags held up by the Joint-Services Color Guard; it became apparent that the memorial was missing a flag of its own. It wasn’t until later in the ceremony will a flag that carried so much history be raised filling the gap that made the structure a true symbol of freedom.
“I don’t remember when the United States and Vietnam re-established diplomatic relations, but when they did, they sent an ambassador named Pete Peterson,” said Saddleback College Chief of Police Harry Parmer.
“He was a former air force pilot who was shot down over Hanoi and spent six years as a POW. I don’t know if he was originally from Orange County, but eventually he joined Chapter 785 of the Vietnam Veterans of America and donated the flag to the chapter. That flag had also flown over the capital and it was also the first flag to fly over Ho Chi Minh City. It also flew over the Vietnam Memorial. It’s important for students to remember the true history of the Vietnam War and the true stories of the men who fought in that war. With this flag, all students of our future generations can remember our service.”
With the final addition to the memorial in place, both veterans and civilians attending the dedication reflected back on what this monument truly means.
“That was my favorite part of the ceremony, because of its significance, in that it flew over the [American] embassy in Vietnam,” said college President Tod Burnett. “As you might have noticed there was no flag on the flag pole and that was my idea in that we will not fly a flag until today.”
The flag, which has seen so much of American history, will remain on the pole for a month before being retired permanently, where it will be displayed in the Student Services Center.
“I went to school here in the 70s and Saddleback College was a trendsetter back then and this just proves the it is still a trendsetter today,” said Marine Corp veteran Jim Gularte, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970.
While many were in awe of the design, artist Fred Olsen reminisced during the memorial’s construction process when he asked Chief Parmer how it looked, to which he replied, “It looks like freedom.”
“It really is such an honor to be able to recognize the sacrifice of our veterans. They are the ones who really give us academic freedom,” said Roquemore. “IVC will have its own memorial tower. It’s a four-bell tower, and it will also be dedicated to our veterans.”
“It’s a great event and we’ve all been waiting for it,” said Saddleback College Vice President of Instruction Rajen Vurdien.
While it stands as a dedication to the sacrifices our veterans made, the memorial also represents the change in the relationship between students and returning veterans.
“Back in the Vietnam era students and veterans obviously didn’t get along that well. It’s just so amazing to see that these two parties recognizing each other and getting along so well today,” said Sergeant Major Ramona Cook, the highest ranking enlisted soldier stationed at Camp Pendleton.
The memorial not only serves our campus, but also surrounding communities.
“I think that there are only two or three campuses in the nation that have veteran memorials. As the resident of Mission Viejo and its Mayor I am so proud,” said Mayor Trish Kelley.