Big Bear Honors its Veterans

Article Courtesy of Big Bear Grizzly

With snow still covering the grass at Veterans Park in Big Bear Lake, officials on Nov. 11 moved the annual Veterans Day ceremony a few feet further east to the adjacent parking lot. Participants didn’t miss a beat in their salute to Big Bear Valley and the nation’s veterans.

Jim Lona, commander of the American Legion Post 584 and a Marine veteran, served as the master of ceremonies of the event. Chairs were spaced at least 6 feet apart for social distancing purposes. Face coverings were worn by most, but not all of those in attendance.

“Today we honor the veterans that volunteered, and some who were volunteered through the draft,” Lona said. “Today is a special moment here in the city of Big Bear Lake.”

Veterans marched to the front behind the flags of their military service. Chaplain Maggie Poland gave the innovation. “Take their memories, take their dreams and walk forward, shouldering the cause of freedom,” she said. “Carry it high and proud. They did. And now, you must walk forward for them and for our children.”

Big Bear Lake mayor pro-tem Randy Putz was the first to offer a speech commemorating the special event.

“When I reflect on the meaning of this day, the honor and the debt to which we owe all our veterans, I start with remembering the sacrifices made by these incredible individuals,” Putz said. “I humbly and gratefully acknowledge, too, that each of you service men and women we have with us today, have stories of sacrifice. Sacrifices made so that we can sing those songs that praise our nation, made so that we can pursue our dreams, made so that we know our children and our children’s children will have the same opportunities that we have had.”

Ed Morgan, the 2019 Veteran of the Year for the state District 33, was the guest speaker. Morgan, a US Army veteran and leader of the Big Bear Valley Military Ministries, thanked veterans for their service, then talked about his family’s legacy as veterans of numerous wars and in peacetime.

Morgan talked about the struggles he and other veterans faced after serving during the Vietnam War, about the unknown struggles of those with post-traumatic stress disorder, the lack of help from the Veterans Administration.

“From 1999 to 2005 I fought like crazy to get my benefits, and I did,” Morgan said. “But at the same time I learned how to navigate that system. So I started helping veterans with their benefits. I finally reached 100 percent, and that’s when I made the decision to start helping other veterans.”

In March 2012, Morgan moved to Big Bear. By 2016, he was helping veterans in Big Bear, and with nine other veterans they formed the Military Ministry. “We started in September 2017 by going to the airport and started talking to a lot of veterans out there,” Morgan said.

By October the ministry had grown substantially. The ministry takes care of transportation for veterans that need to go to the VA. The ministry has helped more than 150 veterans receive their benefits. “I want to thank everyone in the Big Bear Military Ministry for what they have done,” Morgan said, adding that his Veteran of the Year honor should include all of the ministry members.

Morgan asked veterans of each war since World War II to stand as he called out the conflicts, and during peacetime. “The last thing I would like to say to each and every one of you veterans out there — welcome home,” Morgan said.

Lona ended the ceremony recognizing the families, especially the parents, of veterans, saying their jobs were among the toughest. “They can’t sleep at night when you’re out in the zone, in the DMZ, in the air, under the water in a submarine,” Lona said. “Regardless of the branch, we all work together, we are all one. We are one city here, Big Bear Lake and Big Bear City. We’re the Big Bear Valley.”