Longtime Santa Maria resident Maria Legaspi brought her two young children -- Obed, 7, and Eliana, 3 -- to the annual Veterans Day memorial service at the Santa Maria Cemetery so they could hear stories told by those who fought for our nation's freedoms.
"I personally don't have any family members who served in the military, but my son began asking a lot of questions recently about what it means to be a veteran," Legaspi said.
Her son became more curious after learning about U.S. history in school, so she brought him to Saturday's ceremony, hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2521, to personally meet veterans who fought in the conflicts he's only read about.
"My son begged me to bring him here and allow him to experience the ceremony today, and meet those who lived through the war, and fought for us," Legaspi said. "As a mom, I want to teach him that we can never take our rights and freedom for granted. There are so many young ones today who don't know the true meaning behind Veterans Day and Memorial Day."
"Today, we honor those who gave us their ultimate sacrifice," Cmdr. Michael Stadnick Jr., a member of the Santa Maria Valley Veteran Honor Guard, told the crowd. "This is a reminder for all of us to never forget these men, women who served our country, and to welcome them home."
Stadnick shared the story of Pfc. George Bernard Murray, a World War II veteran who finally made it home in August to San Luis Obispo County, where he was laid to rest in the Arroyo Grande Cemetery after the DNA of his remains were positively identified.
He also honored World War II fighter pilot Bobby Rivers, who was held in a German prison camp in Poland, but successfully made it to Santa Maria years later.
"We honor and recognize our veterans where they are lying before us today, and those who were able to finally come home," Stadnick said.
In his keynote speech, Col. Greg Wood, vice commander of the 30th Space Wing and Western Range at Vandenberg Air Force Base, honored all veterans and reminded nonservice members to not just thank veterans for their service, but encourage them to share their story.
Wood's grandfather served in World War I. Growing up, Wood said he always noticed a tiny jar that held a penny atop his grandfather's dresser. He never understood what it was about, but the label signified that it was from a World War I reunion ceremony.
"I always wondered what it was, and never asked the question, never understood his story," Wood said. "But I can only imagine, 99 years ago today as he stood on the ground in France, what went through his mind after what had to be the most horrendous year in his life.
"Unfortunately, [Armistice Day] didn't mark the end of all wars," Wood continued. "Since then, not a single generation of Americans has grown up without being called upon to serve the country. The faces may have changed, the names may be different, but the determination to serve our country has remained constant and steady."
Nobody hates seeing the violence of war more than the men and women who wear their uniforms, Wood said.
"But time and again, all generations have answered their nation's call. It's hard to describe what draws us to it: It's a love of freedom, a desire to serve but among all else. It's also a sense of honor."
He continued: "I ask all of you, veteran or not, to reflect upon your freedoms, get to know the veterans here. Especially the young ones: Ask about that penny."
U.S. Army veteran Ralph Brock, an active duty infantryman from 1965 to ’69, said he and his wife Linda attend the Veterans Day service every year for those who don't get to make it.
"It gives me a great deal of honor to be here representing my father, who was in World War II, and my son, who was at Desert Storm," Brock said. "Every year, those that fought in Korea and World War II are getting fewer and fewer, but we'll continue to carry on the tradition."