By Damien Guzman
East Los Angeles College honored veterans Nov. 12 thru Nov.14 with a Veterans Day celebration that highlighted veterans’ military stories. The event was hosted by the ELAC Veterans Resource Center and Veterans of ELAC (VELAC) and included a flag raising ceremony.
Veterans and staff members met at the S2 Recital Hall with guest speakers, including ELAC President Marvin Martinez, California State Senator Ed Hernandez and a few others. They each gave thanks to all veterans in attendance and around the world.
Staff member and veteran Bill Cushing told the audience the story of an old soldier and the fight for his country.
Alonzo Cushing fought 151 years ago during the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War. He received the Medal of Honor this year from President Barack Obama for holding off swarms of enemies with a single canon before being overwhelmed and shot down.
Professor Bunnarith Chhun showed his appreciation for veterans after describing his tragic childhood in which some of his family members were tortured and executed in Vietnam.
After forces invaded Vietnam, Chhun and his aunt used that distraction to escape and come to the United States.
He was appreciative and understood that without the veterans getting involved in his country, his freedom would be taken away. Vietnam was facing genocide as he escaped.
Veteran Tony Zapata, who served time in Iraq in 2003, became emotional while talking about his experiences. While serving in Iraq, he was involved in raids, security patrols and reconnaissance missions.
Zapata also discussed some of the issues veterans face post-war. He had a hard time talking about problems that many Americans don’t realize come after war, like restlessness, depression, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and alienation.
He praised the veterans center for helping him get through tough times after he was done serving in Iraq. He is now a faculty member.
Zapata received a standing ovation from attendees and was embraced by colleagues after his speech.
“American people have gotten tired of so much war, but people do appreciate us and what we do for the country,” Army Veteran Marvin M. Smith Jr. said.
First Sgt. Raymond Eason is the ROTC instructor at Garfield High School. He along with four of his students, were given the honor of raising the flag for the first time.
“I get somewhat of a chill because I did post-burial duties and the cascades are always covered with the American flag,” Eason said. “It brings memories of people’s sacrifices for the country. That goes through my mind when raising the flag.”
Tech Sgt. Damon Mazyck sang the National Anthem during the flag-raising ceremony at the ELAC Garden. As he sang, all the veterans saluted the flag.
“An overwhelming sense of pride comes over me when I look at those I’m singing for. It’s such an honor to be able to share my gift with Americans and Veterans, and I always wish to convey that prideful feeling to them,” Mazyck said.
“I believe honoring veterans is an essential part of American pride. This country was built on the backs of those who fought for all of the freedoms we have today,” Mazyck said. “Honoring them each year serves as a constant reminder that someone made sacrifices for our benefits.”
Chairs and tables were set up along with refreshments and coffee provided by Starbucks for people to meet and talk to veterans after the flag was raised.
Veterans Appreciation week came to a close when members of ELAC Veterans Center met at the Helen Miller Bailey Library for a workshop.
The members discussed how the resource center can improve services and introduced new plans for the future of veterans.
Several veterans agreed it was important for community colleges and other institutions to provide resources on campus as many struggle after serving.