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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 3:48 pm | Fair 73º


Ceremony to Add Names of Two Vietnam Veterans to Freedom Monument in Santa Maria

The names of two Vietnam War veterans with ties to Santa Maria will be added to the Freedom Monument Veterans Memorial during a ceremony Tuesday.

The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. at the Freedom Monument, which sits in front of the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, 600 S. McClelland St. In case of rain, the ceremony will be held inside the youth center.

This year’s ceremony will center on the addition of plaques remembering two Army soldiers — Phillip Hernandez, a specialist fourth class who died May 14, 1969, and Charles Walker, a first sergeant who died April 12, 1969.

“I think it’s very significant because we’re able now to go back and catch up to make sure nobody’s forgotten,” said Dave Cross, economic development director and the Freedom Monument co-founder. “Frankly, in the case of Charles Walker, if we had not moved forward to recognize him at the Freedom Monument he may not be recognized anywhere."

In addition, the ceremony will note the relocation of the Kenneth Alvarez Memorial to an area near the War on Terrorism Memorial. Alvarez was killed in August 2013 while serving as an Army specialist in Afghanistan. 

The Freedom Monument, conceived in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was dedicated Dec. 7, 2001. Each year since, a new feature had been added, including plaques remembering by name Santa Maria Valley residents killed in action or while serving in the military during various wars since World War II..

Amy Verdin, a former neighbor of the Walker family, approached the founders of the Freedom Monument about his name being left off the monument.

“The reason he wasn’t, come to find out, is he didn’t have Santa Maria as his home of record on his military documents,” Cross said. “But we did our research and realized he raised a family. here.”

Walker was killed in Vietnam and his family moved away from Santa Maria.

The addition of Hernandez comes after veterans from Guadalupe raised concerns that he wasn’t listed on the memorial. Mike Rosas, director of the Mid-Coast Veterans Alliance, was instrumental in providing details about Hernandez.

Hernandez was killed ironically just before he was scheduled to leave Vietnam, while participating in one last patrol.

“They felt strongly that Phillip should be listed here,” said Bob Hatch, a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War and Freedom Monument co-founder. “We agree completely.”

Hernandez was born in Guadalupe, grew up in the Santa Maria Valley and attended Santa Maria High School.

“So we agreed with them that he should be on the Freedom Monument,” Cross added.

Speakers at Tuesday’s ceremony will include Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino; Col. Marc Del Rosario, 30th Operations Group Commander from Vandenberg Air Force Base,; State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian; Frank Campo, commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 91; and Glenn Morris, president and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Hatch, chairman of military affairs committee for the Chamber of Commerce, will serve as the keynote speaker, while Cross will be master of ceremonies.

Other participants will include Santa Maria Police Department Honor Guard, Michael Stadnick Jr., commander of the Santa Maria Veterans Honor Guard playing taps and Gina Keogh, Visitor and Convention Bureau manager, singing the national anthem.

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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