Veterans Day celebration honors those who have fought and fallen

MaryAnne Shults

Scott Montoya was just doing his job. He wasn’t trying to be a hero. After he was awarded the prestigious Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism, much to his chagrin, the Orange County Deputy Sheriff saw his face plastered on billboards throughout Orange County.

“I didn’t even tell anyone at the Sheriff’s Department about the award. I didn’t feel like I’d done anything special, I was just doing what I was trained to do,” said Montoya.

On April 23, 2003, Marine Corp sergeant Scott Montoya rushed into the midst of heavy enemy gunfire five separate times, bullets whizzing by his head and hitting the ground at his feet, all to rescue a wounded Iraqi civilian. In one instance, he hoisted a Marine over his shoulder and ran 200 yards despite the odds of getting shot. For extraordinary heroism while serving as a scout sniper, he was awarded the Navy Cross on January 23, 2005.

Montoya was one of three guest speakers at Saddleback College’s Veteran’s Day celebration to honor those who have served their country in active military duty. Guests were treated to a free buffet-style lunch, and a large cake to celebrate the 233 birthday of the U.S. Marine Corp, while listening to the various speakers. The Veterans Outreach staff organized the event.

A color guard detail from Camp Pendleton opened the ceremony and emcee Harry Parmer, the campus chief of police, opened with a welcoming speech. Parmer commemorated the veterans who could only be there in spirit, those classified as Prisoners of War/Missing in Action, with the POW/MIA Table.

“You may notice this small table here in a place of honor. This table is our way of symbolizing that members of our profession of arms are missing from our midst. They are commonly called POWs or MIAs, we call them brothers,” said Parmer. “They are unable to be with us this evening and so we remember them.”

The table, set for one, symbolizes the frailty of one prisoner against his oppressors. Everything about the table is symbolic. The white tablecloth represents purity; the single red rose reminds of the families and loved ones awaiting their return. The plate with a slice of lemon reminds of their bitter fate, while the salt the family’s tears as they wait. The inverted water glass, because they cannot be present to make a toast. And, the tilted chair, showing the seat is saved until it can be filled.”Let us pause for a moment of silence to remember our comrades,” said Parmer. “May we never forget their sacrifices.”

Other speakers included World War II veteran Fred Whitaker who served in the U.S. Army as a combat infantryman in France during the Battle of the Bulge. A recipient of a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, Whitaker was at the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

“When asked what it means to be a vet, I don’t have to say I’m sorry for answering my country’s call,” Whitaker added. “Freedom cannot flourish without sacrifice.”

U.S. Marine Corp Major Bill Mimiaga served in both Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, first as an infantryman and then in the Marine Aircraft Wing. After retirement from the Corp in 1997, he entered the “Troops to Teachers” program and named Teacher of the Year in 2006 for his commitment to teaching special needs students.

“As a teacher, sometimes students and parents are searching for role models,” said Mimiaga. He said in days gone by, one could look up to politicians, professional athletes, and celebrities, but that is no longer true. “Look to your own family, and for those who went off to war and wore that uniform of this country for a role model. Thank them. Give them a hug.”

Montoya read from his personal journal about that fateful day and the actions that dubbed him a hero. “War is ugly and I know I’ll think about it for a long time. But, I’m still alive.”

When asked his opinion about president-elect Obama, he said, “We don’t fight for the president, we fight for the people.”

A panel discussion followed with several faculty and staff members sharing the services offered to veterans including counseling, special academic services, financial aid, etc.

Several organizations were on hand to hand out literature and answer questions. One of these is a new club recently organized on campus specifically for veterans attending Saddleback.

“I wanted to start a network for future veterans. My inspiration for starting this club came when I realized that we needed some type of organization to share information on all the services for veterans here on campus,” said John Harsh, 23, psychology, the club’s president. An example is that Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton don’t realize that they don’t have to pay out-of-state tuition; their military status defers that additional cost for one year.

Interested veterans can contact John via e-mail at studentveterans@yahoo.com for further information.

MIA

PRESENT THE COLORS

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