NORWALK — Honoring veterans past and present was the theme of the annual Veterans Day program Nov. 11 on the north lawn of City Hall, but speakers took note of the divisive election Nov. 8 and called for efforts to bring the country together under the Constitution which veterans have fought to uphold.
“This is a good time to step back and remember our country’s strengths and those who died to give us the right to vote,” said State Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Cerritos.
He noted recent state legislation offering disabled veterans up to 96 days sick time for treatment of their ailments and urged veterans to contact officials and learn of their benefits.
“It is our pledge to offer our gratitude to all veterans,” Mendoza said.
Sgt. Frankie DeGuzman, an Air Force veteran involved in Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s, spoke on “Americanism” and noted the “difficult changing of the guard,” saying the military will “stand fast and at the ready and embrace the new president while respecting those with different opinions.”
“Americanism means all people are created equal. We are trained to protect all people,” she said.
Keynote speaker, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, said law enforcement, with close ties to veterans, will work to uphold the Constitution under the new administration.
Acknowledging their right to voice their opinions, McDonnell criticized the protests over the election of Donald Trump and said police officers are under pressure to maintain the law.
He lamented the recent wave of police officer deaths and called for leadership from those who support the Constitution.
A law enforcement officer for 35 years, McDonnell served on the Los Angeles Police Department and was police chief in Long Beach before being elected sheriff in 2014.
“This is a very difficult time in our history, with divisiveness, conflict and demonstrations,” McDonnell said. “Too many police officers have been shot. We must rise above our combative culture.”
McDonnell noted that the Sheriff’s Department has established a military and veterans affairs unit, which works with veterans groups such as the American Legion to aid veterans and advise them of benefits. He said about 350 veterans are in the county jail system and that many have mental problems. Such prisoners are given access to counseling and other services, he said.
He noted that unemployment is a problem facing many veterans and said those with military experience often make good law enforcement officers as they are familiar with self-discipline and team work.
Concerning those worried about the future, McDonnell said “the American dream is still alive to those who will work for it.”
Also participating in the program were Mayor Mike Mendez, Bradley Schoep, head of Sons of the American Legion Post No. 359; post commander Wayne Carrigan; and Becky Bullard, head of the post’s ladies’ auxiliary.
Music was provided by the Norwalk All City Youth Band, directed by Frank Hinojoz.