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La Mirada Honors Local Veterans at Observance Events

By Brian Hews


Nov. 11 was a day of remembrance in La Mirada.  Two veteran’s observance events – a special midday memorial service in the Civic Center Plaza hosted by Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9148 and the City’s annual Salute to Veterans event at La Mirada Theatre in the evening – gave residents a chance to honor local veterans and learn more about their service to our country.

It began with a wreath laying ceremony and prayer led by VFW Post 9148 at the Civic Center Plaza next to City Hall.  Residents, local veterans, and their family members gathered to pay tribute to La Mirada’s fallen service members, their names etched in the granite Eternal Flame Memorial that burns day and night overlooking La Mirada Boulevard.

In the evening, community members attending the Salute to Veterans event walked past authentic military vehicles displayed at the entrance doors of the La Mirada Theatre.  Inside the lobby, local veterans representing every military branch brought medals, displayed pictures and other memorabilia from their time in uniform, and shared their stories and experiences.

Robert Castillo served in the Army as a paratrooper during the Korean War from 1950-51.  He had an official military map of Korea on display showing the flight pattern his unit followed before they parachuted behind enemy lines near the capitol city Pyongyang.

When asked what it was like learning to jump out of airplanes as a paratrooper, he replied, “It was exciting.  At 19 years old, nothing scares you.”

Charles Boquist served aboard the USS Whitley during World War II and was involved in the invasion of Iwo Jima.  He was celebrating his enlistment day anniversary, recalling how he had taken the Red Line from Santa Ana to downtown Los Angeles on this day, Nov. 11, 1942, exactly 71 years earlier, to sign up for service.

In 2002, Boquist took a trip back to the Pacific Islands where he had served, including Iwo Jima.  He brought pictures of the trip to display at the Theatre.

“When I first left at the end of my deployment, the island [Iwo Jima] was completely barren from the fighting – just lava sand,” he said.  “When I went back in 2002, it was all green with plant life.  That was quite a sight.”

After meeting and listening to stories by the veterans in the lobby, everyone headed to the Theatre auditorium and took their seats as Mayor Steve De Ruse made his way to the stage to begin the patriotic presentation portion of the event.  It began with VFW Post 9148 presenting the nation’s colors, Boy Scout Troop 919 leading the pledge of allegiance, and an inspiring performance of the national anthem by 9-year-old Sam Santiago.  Afterwards, a video presentation featuring pictures sent in by veterans during their time in the military was shown and Mayor De Ruse invited several local veterans who had taken part in the City’s Military Banner program on-stage to be recognized and presented them with honorary banners to take home.

The night’s featured speaker was Norbie Lara of the Wounded Warrior Project.  Lara, from Visalia, California, served in the Army for eleven and a half years, including deployments to Kuwait, Bosnia and Iraq.  It was during his deployment in Iraq that Lara was critically injured during a roadside attack while on patrol.  The attack cost him his right arm and forced doctors to put him in a medically induced coma for two months while he recovered at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Lara credits the Wounded Warrior Project for helping him transition to his new life after the injury and learn to overcome the physical and mental obstacles that came with it.  He says it was a suggestion by Wounded Warrior Project members that he come on a ski trip with them and give the sport a try that eventually led to his breakthrough.

“As I made my way down the slopes with only one arm, I realized my life had changed, but it was far from over,” he said.                         Lara believes events like the Salute to Veterans event are crucial to highlighting the contributions and sacrifices that veterans and their families have made, and encourages continued support for returning service members.

“There’s something to be said for La Mirada holding this event all these years and recognizing local veterans,” added Lara.                     The event meant a lot to Javier Toyos, a La Mirada resident and pastor at the La Mirada First Nazarene Church, who is currently serving in the Army.  Toyos completed a tour of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2009-10 and in the coming months he is being deployed to Afghanistan alongside his son, Javier Toyos Jr.         “I’m just stunned by this incredible Veteran’s Day event at the La Mirada Theatre and the level of support the La Mirada community shows for its service members,” said Toyos.  “It means a lot to us veterans to be recognized for our service and contributions to the country.”

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