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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 10:10 pm | Fair 53º


Freedom Monument Veterans Memorial Makes Room for Orcutt Soldier Killed in Vietnam

Recognized for bravery and heroism during 1968 battle, Richard Landers takes rightful place among those honored by Santa Maria for service and sacrifice


An Orcutt soldier who was killed in action during the Vietnam War was added to Santa Maria’s Freedom Monument Veterans Memorial during a formal ceremony Thursday.

A plaque on the monument now includes the name of Army Pfc. Richard R. Landers, who was killed May 2, 1968, while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 506th Airborne Infantry.

On that day, the 19-year-old soldier was defending a military base in Binh Thuy while engaged in a fierce gun battle with the Việt Cộng.

“Richard was mortally wounded from the engagement, but because of his efforts and that of a fellow soldier who was wounded but survived, the enemy was kept at bay until reinforcements arrived,” said Dave Cross, Freedom Monument co-founder.

“There’s no way we can possibly ease the heartbreak that his family has endured since that fateful day,” he said. “But by allowing us to recognize Richard and place a plaque in his honor, we can make certain that his sacrifice will never be forgotten by our community.”

Landers’ brother, Alfred, recalled the moment that his family received the news.

“I saw my mother turn into an old woman that day when she found out,” he said.

Also attending the ceremony were two other siblings, including Landers’ twin sister, along with two of his children, Jeff and Lisa.

Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino noted the overuse of the word hero in today’s society, but called Landers’ actions in combat “absolutely courageous and heroic.”

“Here he was thousands of miles from his hometown of Orcutt with only his weapon, another soldier next to him and a desire to protect the rest of his unit,” he said. “He lost his life in that battle but he did so in a heroic way.”

Since its original dedication on Dec. 7, 2011, the Freedom Monument — located in front of the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center at 600 S. McClelland St. — has seen the addition of 112 other names of military members killed while serving, from World War I through current conflicts.

Thursday marked the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, and organizers recognized the occasion, as well.

“We pause today to recommit ourselves to the principles that make America what it is today, and to remember the high cost of hard-won freedom and to honor the 112 men memorialized on the wall behind me who died while protecting it,” said Bob Hatch, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran and Freedom Monument co-founder.

“Richard Landers, the 113th man we also honor here today, willingly defended what he rightly thought was precious — the right of people everywhere to determine their own future, free of oppression and fear,” he added. “We must never forget that it was his sacrifice that helped sustain this nation.”

Mayor Alice Patino noted the importance of honoring military members, recalling relatives who returned from war changed by their service.

She also said she is bothered by those disrespecting the American flag, noting immigrants who give up everything to get to the United States but then want to change the nation once here.

“I wish that not only would they love my country, and love our country, but respect our country for what it is,” she said. “We didn’t get here by being a bunch of pansies. We got here because our men and women were willing to fight, willing to fight for what we have today.”

Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Diena Mosely from Vandenberg Air Force Base said it’s comforting to know there are communities like Santa Maria that honor fallen military members and embrace their families.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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