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Guests of the city of San Marcos’ Veterans Day Ceremony greet retired Navy veteran Edward Bridges, left, after his presentation highlighting personal experiences of his military service. Photos by Mark Marquez
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San Marcos ceremony honors veterans for their service

SAN MARCOS — A small park in San Marcos served as the venue for a big-hearted ceremony recognizing the many contributions of U.S. military personnel and their families on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

The large group of community volunteers and civic-minded citizens who convened at Helen Bougher Memorial Park to honor those who have served in times of war and peace included members of the San Marcos Lions Club, the San Elijo Middle School Gig Jazz Band, the U.S. Marines Corps, the Cal State University San Marcos Kappa Sigma Fraternity and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

Johnny Keys plays the bagpipes during the San Marcos Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 11 at Helen Bougher Memorial Park.

The San Marcos Veterans Day Ceremony was sponsored by the city of San Marcos, which took over the annual proceedings from a grassroots citizens committee about seven years ago.

For the event’s featured speaker, Edward Bridges, a retired Navy Chief Hospital Corpsman who served 21 years of active duty, this year’s theme of “Celebrating Our Local Heroes” signifies a moment of time to reflect on the many sacrifices military members have made over the years.

“It’s a remembrance of people I have served with — good people,” he said.

For the estimated 400 people gathered at the event, Bridges recounted his experiences that earned him a Purple Heart. It happened in Vietnam in 1967 when he was assigned to ride in supply helicopters to deliver cigarettes to field people. One day he was awakened early to get on a helicopter to evacuate two survivors of a six-man reconnaissance team behind enemy lines.

“It was still very dark. I heard pop, pop, pop,” he said. “The head crew chief went down. I felt a punch in my back. My body was hit with an enemy round. The pilot was hit, too, and he came out of the cockpit and laid down beside me.”

Bridges said he spent the next three years recovering from injuries he sustained from the shrapnel.

Now his bravery in action is recognized on the San Marcos Veterans Memorial Park Wall of Remembrance that was dedicated at the Helen Bougher park in January 2009. One of 267 tiles on the wall honoring 325 honorably discharged service members contains the names of Edward Bridges, who served from 1953 to 1974, beside the name of his father Ralph E. Bridges, who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart while serving in the Army from 1944 to 1945, and his son-in-law Erick S. Kendl, who served in the Navy from 1985 to 2006.

The memorial wall, designed by artist Glen Schmidt, was created to provide a place for solace, reflection and to honor those that have served our nation in various branches of the military. Names on the tiles also include those of 12 killed in action, five missing in action and six prisoners of war.

During the Veterans Day ceremony, certificates of recognition were awarded to Edward Bridges along with event organizers Greg and Heidi Rassatt on behalf of California State Assembly members Joel Anderson and Marie Waldron. San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond was also on hand to issue a certificate of appreciation and gratitude for the Rassatts and a proclamation to “gratefully honor, sincerely appreciate, and whole-heartedly thank” Edward Bridges on behalf of the San Marcos City Council.

“Greg and Heidi put in multiple hours of service every year,” Desmond said. “It’s a phenomenal event that brings everyone together. It’s a great effort. Hopefully, they’ll continue this for many years. We want to honor you for your commitment to our veterans and to the city of San Marcos as well.”

Among the many other volunteers who joined in supporting the Veterans Day event was the San Marcos High School Air Force Junior ROTC. Master Sgt. Michael Lazare said the Junior ROTC has been changing out the American and POW flags at the event every year since 2010 and it is one of the three big city events it participates in along with the Memorial Day ceremony in May and the annual holiday parade, which will be held Dec. 3 this year.

“The high school kids come out here to participate and do the right thing,” Lazare said. “It’s volunteers that make it happen.”