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Veterans Honored in Downtown Santa Barbara Ceremony

El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park provides backdrop for honoring those who served in uniform

Russell Clay Ruiz and Diane Soto Ruiz, both Los Soldados del Real Presidio de Santa Bárbara members, along with Santa Barbara City College student Sebastian Herics, 20, participated in the Veterans Day ceremony Friday at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park in downtown Santa Barbara. Click to view larger
Russell Clay Ruiz and Diane Soto Ruiz, both Los Soldados del Real Presidio de Santa Bárbara members, along with Santa Barbara City College student Sebastian Herics, 20, participated in the Veterans Day ceremony Friday at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park in downtown Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

A historic military installation in downtown Santa Barbara set the backdrop for a ceremony Friday afternoon to honor the men and women who have served their country in war.

More than 50 people gathered outside of the main adobe building at the El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, which was established by the Spanish from Mexico in 1782.

For more than 10 years, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and Los Soldados del Real Presidio de Santa Bárbara members have held the annual ceremony, honoring veterans and military families. 

“There’s no better place to have this event because this is where military history begins in Santa Barbara,” said David Martinez, a Los Soldado member and Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation staff member. “There’s rich history and we are remembering the military community because of that historic connection.”

Martinez said the Los Soldados members are dedicated to preserving military traditions. 

A small group of Los Soldados members, wearing Spanish-era soldier uniforms, marched onto the historic site carrying flags to represent the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Members of the Santa Barbara Community Flute Ensemble filled the air with a medley of songs from the American Revolution.

Santa Barbara native and Los Soldado Russell Clay Ruiz encouraged people to commemorate veterans every day, not just on the calendar holidays that highlight them.

“When you visit the cemetery and see all the headstones and the long rows of graves—no one visits them anymore,” Ruiz said. “The headstones sit there collecting weeds. It’s sad. They should be remembered. People live a fast lifestyle and they forget those who have died.”

Santa Barbara resident and Korean War veteran Jack Calderon displays a collection of his family members who served during times of war. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara resident and Korean War veteran Jack Calderon displays a collection of his family members who served during times of war. (Susi Calderon Bellman photo)

Ruiz, who served four years in the U.S. Navy, said war affects families, individuals and communities forever.

“A lot of families have been touched by war,” Ruiz said. “Then, there’s the lucky ones that are still living.”

World War II Veteran Jim Mills gave the keynote speech and started the ceremony with words of recognition and gratitude to active military, veterans and their families.

He opened the microphone to audience members to share their stories.

Korean War veteran Jack Calderon of Santa Barbara reflected on his memories of service, along with nine other veterans.

“We fought the forgotten war,” Calderon said. “I would do it again.”

Calderon was attending La Cumbre Junior High School and was 13 years old at the time, and still remembers June 25, 1950.

“The day the war started in Korea, a big bell rang and all the men jumped out to the field,” Calderon said. “They said we had been invaded.”

Calderon said he was one of the first U.S. ground forces troops to be sent to Korea after President Harry Truman announced he was ordering U.S. air and naval forces to South Korea to counter the invasion by North Korea.

More than 800 people died in Calderon’s regiment.

After serving more than a year in combat and getting wounded, Calderon was 17 years old when he returned to Santa Barbara.

He stayed in the U.S. Army Reserve until 1967.

Calderon’s daughter, Susi Calderon Bellman, showed appreciation for her father’s service.

“Growing up, he would always tell us stories,” Bellman said. “He made sure his 9 children lived a good and happy life.” 

Kevin McGarry, director of programs at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, said there are more than 38,000 veterans in Santa Barbara County.

“This neighborhood has a large veteran community,” McGarry said. “It’s something that has organically started in Santa Barbara and we have tried to grow every year.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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.

Los Soldados del Real Presidio de Santa Bárbara members, wearing Spanish-era soldier uniforms, marched onto El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park carrying flags to represent the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Click to view larger
Los Soldados del Real Presidio de Santa Bárbara members, wearing Spanish-era soldier uniforms, marched onto El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park carrying flags to represent the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. (Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation photo)

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