Honoring veterans on the land they fought for


Jessica Taylor

Saddleback has undertaken an extensive project to create a Veteran’s Memorial. March 5 welcomed students and veterans in a forum and groundbreaking ceremony.

Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine veterans gathered together in SSC 212 to standing room only to listen to four veterans speak of their experiences in the services.

Jack Ray Hammett, a retired U.S. Navy, spoke of his fateful D-Day experiences and the tragedy that hit Pearl Harbor in just one hour, 50 minutes.

“We are here to honor the men and women who have paid their dues and still continue to pay them,” Hammett said, “as we pass the torch of liberty to future generations.”

Corporal Fred Whitaker, U.S. Army, told a riveting tale in which he partook in the largest land battle in the American History, the Battle of the Bulge.

“Imagine eight towns the size of Orange fighting for 40 days,” Whitaker said. “And it was during the coldest winter Europe had seen in 30 years. And nobody knew about it.”

Whitaker also spoke on the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration camp, and how he felt upon revisiting the site 50 years later. He told horrible stories of smelling burning flesh, and of a Nazi wife who picked inmates with the smoothest skin to make lamp shades out of.

“When I got to Buchenwald [in 1995], there was a group of school children,” Whitaker said. “It is a German Federal Law that children go through the concentration camp so that something like that will not happen again… so that people know of the heinous crimes and it doesn’t happen again.

Ronnie Guyer, radioman driver to Lt. Colonel Hal G. Moore, told of his friend who predicted 9-11 and saved many people from Building 2 by having an evacuation plan in order for them.

“These are the kinds of good hearts we are honoring today,” Guyer said. “What a wonderful land we live in. I have witnessed such heroism and it gave me my passion for the rest of my life.

Lastly, Saddleback student Ehren Terbeek, Corporal U.S. Marine Corps, explained the huge amount of respect and honor he has for Saddleback, which helped him, transition back into classes and offer the support he needed after his two tours with Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of dropping everything and going back,” Terbeek said. “There is a bond and camaraderie that I will never forget, it cannot be described.”

Following the forum, guests were invited to the quad for the groundbreaking ceremony, which was accompanied by a light lunch of sandwiches, fruit, salad, and mini-brownies.

People joined together, old friends and people meeting for the first time, to reminisce on their own times in the service.

The first phase of the Memorial is slated to be unveiled in summer 2008, with an anticipated completion date of Memorial Day. The finished Memorial will feature the first American flag flown over the United States Embassy in Ho Chi Minh City. The flag is a gift from Chapter 785 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, which obtained the flag from Pete Peterson, the first U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam and a former Prisoner of War.

The project was first drawn up in 2005, and Saddleback’s Director of the Art Department, Richard White was called upon to create the memorial with the help of Fred Olsen. The first part of the memorial was fired into place in the quad Jun. 14, 2006.

Now that the first phase has begun, the Foundation is launching a fundraising campaign to raise the remaining $100,000 needed for the $250,000 project.