By Patric Hedlund
A patriotic ballet filled the sky over Frazier Mountain Park for Veterans Day on November 11. A graceful 30-foot flag was suspended from the top of the Kern County Fire Engine 55 ladder truck. Playful breezes teased it into a constantly-changing flow of curves and arcs above a red-white-and-blue crowd of children, families and elders.
The Mountain Communities came together on the sunny morning to show respect and to salute the nation’s military veterans. All ages shared music, memories, emotion—and hot dogs.
In some ways this is a critical moment in the spiritual life of this community.
Veterans have always found a warm home here. For over a decade Vietnam Vet Simba Roberts worked closely with Frankie Sanchez and other veterans to coordinate meaningful Memorial Day and Veterans Day events at the Cody Prosser Veterans Memorial in Frazier Mountain Park. They also helped to get the memorial constructed. They worked to maintain it and its proud battery of flags.
The two men were always referred to affectionately in town only as “Frankie” and “Simba,” because everyone knew who they were. Both were relentless supporters of veterans concerns. Simba was the talented spokesman at each of the ceremonies; Frankie usually stepped up to the podium for only a moment to shed a tear and to find he was too choked-up to speak.
This year Simba joined in via amplified speakerphone at the same time he was undergoing dialysis near a family home in Idaho.
Sanchez died in January of this year.
This Veterans Day ceremony was an answer to the silent question in the minds of many about how the community might be able to carry forward without the central leadership of these two beloved men.
The hearty ceremony that answered that concern was hosted by Frazier Park VFW Post 9791, with Interim Commander Don Turner serving as master of ceremonies. Turner and Terrence Alexis of the National Cement Company carried a flowered wreath in memory of America’s veterans. The two marched in with A.J. Durocher and the honor guard to the Cody Prosser Veterans Memorial.
DiAnn Dever, president of the very active VFW Women’s Auxiliary, called Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the crowd to come forward to lead the Pledge of Allegiance with VFW members. Retired Pastor Fred Rose said a blessing, quoting Washington’s ‘Prayer to the Nation.’ Jack Lelah sang a sincere and passionate version of the National Anthem.
Then Alexis stepped forward to recall that Frankie Sanchez asked him before he died to “say a few words for me.” Alexis spoke of the wealth of gratitude we owe to Frankie and all veterans. “Thank you does not seem adequate,” he said, “Freedom is not a gift; it is earned with the sacrifice of America’s fighting men and women.” He added that “we must see that none of them go homeless or hungry or [in need] when they return,” and quoted John F. Kennedy, saying, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
Richard Sheffield spoke about the mission to plant trees for veterans, and remembered some of our mountain’s elder veterans. He said 3,500 trees had been planted in Southern California by the Veterans for Trees organization so far. He and his wife Tammy Sheffield donated a blue spruce to be planted in the ‘grove of honor’ around the Prosser memorial.
Richard Hoegh, 92 who landed on the beaches of Normandy in WWII, looked on as daughter Anne Orcutt from Fresno stood beside him.
Students from local schools rose to read thoughtful essays. El Tejon School 7th grader Lyssa St. Cyr also spoke about the need to fight for freedom. Gorman School 8th grader Alvaro Molino, 13 reflected that Veterans Day began as Armistice Day—a time when WWII hostilities finally ended. He said “November 11 is also a day to honor world peace, to remember why I must work for peace….”
Derek Heisig, 12 (7th grade) and Tavin Heisig, 11 (6th grade) both of Peak to Peak Mountain Charter School, each read their own essays. Derek and Tavin both thanked their relatives, “my grandfather who fought in Vietnam, my great grandfathers who fought in WWII and all my uncles who went to Vietnam….”
Derek said, “Veterans have made us a strong and safe country.” Tavin remembered the role of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in securing November 11 as a day of honor for all veterans. Both of the boys donated their $25 essay awards from the VFW to the fund to help disabled vets and their families.
Katelyn Bernards, 9 (4th grade) of Frazier Park School said Veterans Day reminded her of “my cousin who is in the army.” She said it brought new meaning into the Pledge of Allegiance.
The band YesterYear played a rockin’ medley of “Wild Thing,” “Louie Louie” and “Hang On Sloopy,” as VFW’s DiAnn Dever and Barbara McCarthy swayed to the music. Dever explained that ‘Buddy Poppies’ remind us of the deaths at Flanders Field and the fund to help the children of veterans and to assist disabled veterans.
Mel Weinstein presented an epic photo to Fire Station 55 showing its grand flag, to thank them for bringing it to be a part of Mountain Community ceremonies.
At the end, VFW Auxiliary’s Frances Durocher brought Frankie Sanchez’ widow forward to the podium. Sylvia Sanchez spoke briefly.
“You all know that Frankie is here in spirit,” she said. Those who knew him could not think of another place he would rather be. And he would have been proud to see how the community has carried forward.”
The event ended with families migrating over to the hot dog grill. Beau Durocher brought his wife Rebecca, and children Olivia, 17; Gracie, 6; and Dakota, 5 from Huntington Beach. “We come every year,” he said, “to honor Veterans Day and A.J., my dad.”
(l-r) Frankie Sanchez in 2012 and Simba Roberts in 2009.
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This is part of the November 15, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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