“For those who have put their lives on the line for our country, freedom has a special meaning that many may never know,” Santa Clarita Valley businessman Fred Arnold told nearly 200 Thursday at the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Patriots Luncheon.
Some in the audience at the Hyatt Regency in Valencia were moved to tears during the ceremony honoring local veterans who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The fourth annual Patriots Luncheon raised funds to support the Chamber’s Ian Gelig Scholarship Program, said Terri Crain, president of the SCV Chamber of Commerce.
The scholarship was created by Arnold in honor of fallen local veteran Ian Gileg, who was killed in Afghanistan in March 2010.
Red, white and blue balloons and patriotic backdrops filled the Hyatt dining room as songs like “God Bless the U.S.A.” accompanied the speeches and recognition.
“These people can tell you the meaning of freedom,” said Arnold, motioning toward the eight veterans seated at a table.
After food was served, veterans Rex Gribble, Lee M. Shulman, Tom Tucker, Donald L. Like, Fred Gesin, Bill Reynolds, J.D Kennedy and Janelle Percy were introduced individually and shared their stories with the crowd.
During his introduction, World War II veteran Jacob Randolph “Tom” Tucker‘s journal entries from 1944 and 1945 were shared, including his accounts of the 1945 Iwo Jima invasion.
“At about 3,000 yards we started dropping swimmers. The water was like ice, and I could see houses and trees on fire,” wrote Tucker. “Charlie and I were cracking jokes at first to keep from being afraid, but underwater we could see machine gun bullets and mortar shells when they hit.”
“I was so choked up after 70 years of not having been in a B-25 I could barely see the instruments,” said Shulman.
In addition to honoring the eight local veterans, the luncheon concluded by recognizing Santa Clarita’s fallen veterans, including Gileg.
“Because of our veterans past, we are free,” Arnold said. Because of our veterans present and future, we will remain free.”