At the heart of the city’s Cross Valley Connector, there’s a little oasis for reflection.
Thursday morning, in a pocket park created in a week’s time by the city’s landscapers on the corner of Valley Center Drive and Golden Valley Road, members of veterans’ groups, elected officials, city staff and Gold Star families gathered to dedicate Fallen Warriors Memorial Bridge over the Santa Clara River.
The event began with Mayor Marsha McLean asking for a moment of silence, after which she, the mother of a career military man herself, said to the parents and friends of those troops being honored, “That was difficult for me. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for you.”
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Legislative representatives shared their official’s sentiments and regrets, but perhaps the most poignant speaker was Scott Wilk, Jr., the field representative for Senator Tony Strickland, who spoke haltingly of his childhood friendship with fallen soldier Rick Slocum.
McLean stepped back up to the podium and shared a sentiment that was on everyone’s mind.
“It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are on this war or any war,” she said. “We’ve lost nine of our sons and I hope and pray we lose no more.
“We dedicate this bridge today in the hopes that they’ll never be forgotten. They took an oath to protect and serve our country, so it is our duty to never forget them.”
Four fathers of the fallen troops then addressed the crowd, with Dante Acosta leading them.
“When we send our children off to fight to our country’s freedom to assemble here and say what we want to say, a part of your heart goes with them,” Acosta said. “Like all of these young men, Rudy cared about his family and community. It’s the memories we all share that, by the grace of God, we are able to get out of bed and carry on. It’s because of the friends and family and the amazing community like this.”
Richard Slocum’s father, Bob, spoke next.
“It’s been six years for us and we’ve been honored,” he said. “We know our son went in voluntarily after 9/11 and wanted to get over there and get involved. The Marines changed his life. But I want to tell you this is a great patriotic city.”
Ed Colley thanked the crowd, but singled out businessman Fred Arnold who helped organize a special tribute when Ian Timothy Gelig was killed.
“Thank you for helping us remember. To live where our veterans and the fallen are honored and the families supported is special, but I wanted to give special thanks to Fred. He recognized that there was a need and mobilized the community to recognize all of us.”
Chris Unthank, the father of Jake Suter, spoke last and noted the bond between all parents of the fallen.
“When you recognize the ‘newest’, we know the support is for us all,” he said.
He read a poem that was given to the family from the staff at West Ranch High School, part of the memorabilia from candlelight vigils and services held to honor Jake after his death. Halfway through the reading, he began to choke up – and three of his fellow fathers’ hands went immediately to his shoulders.
At the rising of the sun and at its going down, we remember them
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them
At the shining of the sun and in the warmth of summer, we remember them
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them
At the beginning of the year and at its end, we remember them
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them
When we have joy we crave to share, we remember them
When we have decisions that are difficult to make, we remember them
When we have achievements that are based on theirs, we remember them
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them
The plaque at the bridge dedicates the Fallen Warriors Memorial Bridge, “honoring Santa Clarita Valley residents who lost their lives since 9/11/2001 while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces War on Terror.
“The City of Santa Clarita respectfully acknowledges each one of these troops and recognizes their ultimate sacrifice. May we keep each of them and their families in our thoughts and prayers. You will not be forgotten.”
It closes with a quote from President Harry S. Truman
“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”