Story and photos by Britny Coker-Moen Contributor
Long Beach State University celebrated Veterans Day with a week of festivities hosted by Associated Students, Inc., the Veterans Services Offices, and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Gus Orozco.
While many events occurred throughout the week, the bulk of the activity occurred Thursday through Saturday, ending with Habitat for Humanity’s Veterans Build and the 21st Annual Long Beach Veterans Day Celebration.
Veterans and civilians stood shoulder to shoulder at the Speaker’s Platform on campus on Thursday to celebrate the 242nd birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps (officially Friday, Nov. 10). The event was led by Dr. Marshall Thomas, Marine Corps veteran and Director of Veteran Services.
LBSU’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) presented the colors, and the voice of Andrew Meats, Marine Corps veteran, resonated across the crowd as he sang the National Anthem with elegance.
“First, I want to thank our veteran allies, because without their support, none of this would have happened,” said keynote speaker, drill sergeant and U.S. Army veteran Orozco. “Speaking for myself… Their involvement made the transition from coming home to being a civilian much easier.”
Orozco has been devoting his time and resources to veterans and active duty service members since he joined the Army in 2005.
“I have a message for my brothers and sisters,” Orozco said as he addressed his fellow veterans in the crowd. “This is a call to action for you. It might be five years, it might be 10 years, it might be 30 years, from that time you raised your right hand to make a commitment to defend the Constitution, and I’m here to tell you that that commitment isn’t over. It’s not over after your discharge. I challenge you to stay active. Stay active, because now more than ever you’re needed.”
Upon his return to the stage, Marshall reminded us all to do more than just thank a veteran. Start a conversation and get to know the person, even if only for a few minutes, he said.
“When you are thanking veterans, thank them from your heart, not just from habit,” said Marshall.
The celebration concluded with the traditional cutting of the cake with a sword, a noncommissioned officer's’ saber. The first two slices of the cake were given to the youngest and the oldest Marine Corps veterans in attendance.
On Friday, LBSU students, veterans and ASI representatives joined Habitat for Humanity’s annual Habitat for Heroes Veteran Build in the Washington neighborhood of West Long Beach.
The LBSU team was taken to the Long Beach Day Nursery for cosmetic touch-ups, including the repainting and replacement of a support beam on the children's’ shade structure in the play yard.
The Long Beach Day Nursery has been operating since 1912, according to Whitney Leathers, Executive Director.
“The whole basis of the nursery is that it was started by community members,” said Leathers. “The only way it’s been able to be around for 105 years is through community support, like what we're seeing today with Habitat. We’re only here because communities believe in what we do, and that’s pretty remarkable.”
Habitat for Humanity hosted an estimated 200 volunteers with a beautiful breakfast and ceremony congratulating veterans.
Orozco is also the treasurer for the Long Beach Veterans Day Committee, which is responsible for putting on the Veterans Day Parade Celebration in North Long Beach. The parade started on Elm Avenue and South Street Saturday morning at around 10: 15 a.m.
This year’s parade was a hit, according to Marine Corps veteran, Jim Dolan.
“This was a real Veterans Day Parade,” he said after the parade ended Saturday afternoon.
Hoisted by a Long Beach fire truck, a 50-foot long American flag flew over Atlantic Avenue as the parade floats turned the corner from South Street, heading north.
The parade ended at Houghton Park on Atlantic and Harding, where a ribbon cutting ceremony had celebrated the opening of the new Veterans Valor Plaza at the park earlier that morning.
An audience member thanked a veteran in the parade for his service, and his response, shouted back from his wheelchair, still rings in my ears:
“You’re welcome, and you were worth it!”