Military families, Santa Clarita Valley residents and Santa Clarita City Council members attended the 9th annual Military Honor Christmas Tree Lighting Saturday night in Newhall.
“As you can imagine, the holidays can be bittersweet for families with loved ones that are serving our country and those who have fallen,’ said Councilman Dante Acosta, whose son, Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta was killed during a service in Afghanistan in 2011. “We are filled with immense pride as we reflect on the work being done here at home and around the globe by the men and women that we love and hold so dearly, but many of the families this time of year, there will be an empty seat at the table this Christmas time.”
Jessie Dempsey of the Santa Clarita Christian School, RockNacappella, Celena McMahon and Marilyn Hackett sang holiday songs while various community members gave speeches.
“It’s amazing how warmly I feel that I’ve been embraced since I got back,” said Robert Patrick Lewis, who served as a member of the Green Beret, a special unit of troops in the United States Army. “You know, veterans never did what they did for thanks. never looking for someone to buy us a drink at the bar, never looking for recognition but every time we get it, it means a lot. It really does.”
SCV Young Marines presented a wreath to honor the community’s fallen heroes.
“Many of us will not be able to enjoy the traditional holiday experiences with our loved ones this year, like decorating the house and trimming the tree and sharing those smiles and a hug,” Dante Acosta said. “Unfortunately for some military families, there will always be that empty space in our homes and more importantly in our hearts for those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Pastor Peter Beers of Grace Baptist Church, Dick Jeffrey, Mayor Laurene Weste, Assemblyman Scott Wilk spoke throughout the evening.
“When we first started, a lot of us, our children were at war and so we had a lot of families worried about their children, needing to get together and we thought this would be cool to hang laminated stars of our sons in combat on the tree and veterans as well and to have a time to honor them and think about them,” said Suzon Gerstel, president of the Prayer Angels for the Military, which put on the event. “How many of us have kids deployed at Christmas and not at home with us.
‘We’re thankful for our veterans in the past, it’s good to remind the people. Some of the parents come and it’s nice for them to see that their children are remembered, that our community doesn’t forget that. As large as we get as a community, we still have that closeness, which is so important.”
Prayer Angels for the Military is an organization that works to help men and women in the military by providing car packages and support.