Probably nowhere on the Central Coast are America’s military personnel more recognized than in the Santa Maria Valley.

A number of monuments and facilities exist to show our appreciation to those who have served, who do serve and who will serve in the future. In the Santa Maria area alone we have the following:

The Veteran’s Memorial Center — This facility is currently managed and maintained by Santa Maria Parks and Recreation, and is a registered Historical Landmark. It was built to honor veterans of the Santa Maria Valley who served in world wars.

During its almost 80-year history, Marshal N. Braden Post 56 has continuously occupied the building. The members of the post were the original organizers to get the building built. It was constructed using CCC and WPA funds and labor.

Over the years, besides the American Legion, the following veterans organizations have called the Vets Hall home — Disabled American Veterans, Marine Corps League, VFW, Fleet Reserve, WWI Association, American Veterans United and Amvets.

The Freedom Monument — The Freedom Monument was dedicated in 2001 to remember those Santa Maria Valley veterans who have given their lives during times of war, but also to honor all veterans and military members still serving on active duty.

The Freedom Monument features six marble monoliths, each holding a plaque representing various branches of the service. It also includes a fountain and tile mural of a bald eagle. Each year, on or about Dec. 7, a different plaque or other tribute is dedicated. Past plaques have honored veterans who have died in the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II. Recent additions have included plaques honoring women in the armed forces, Vandenberg AFB, and others.

Since its inception, the Freedom Monument has placed the names of over 100 Santa Maria Valley service men and women who have given their lives defending their country.

The Santa Maria Valley Military Wall of Honor — This latest tribute was officially dedicated on Nov. 8, 2013. While doing a tour of the airport terminal with Santa Maria Airport District General Manager Chris Hastert, I asked if an area of the terminal could be made available to create a tribute to all past, present and future military personnel. With this approval in hand, I solicited the help of Airport District Manager, Chamber of Commerce President Bob Hatch, and Chairman of the EDC David Cross. Bob and David were the driving force behind the Freedom Monument, which stands in front of the Abel Maldonado Youth Center in Santa Maria.

But it’s not just about memorials and monuments. Throughout the Santa Maria area, individuals and groups are making an effort every day to bring support to our active duty and veteran military. For example, the Elks has a monthly reminder in their newsletter to remember our veterans, the Marine Corps League runs the Toys for Tots campaign on behalf of the Marine Corps Reserve, the American Legion, Amvets, VFW and other organizations afford a place for veterans to connect with others who have served. Then there’s groups like the Welcome Home Veterans who gather at local airports to welcome military personnel returning from deployment; AmpSerf, a group which works with disabled vets by teaching them to surf; the Tin Can Sailors, comprised of personnel who have served on naval destroyers; and the American Legion Riders, who accompany our fallen warriors to their final resting place.

And so, we in the Santa Maria Valley say to our military “we care!”

Hugh Rafferty is the Chairman of Committee INC and a member of Coastal Valleys Detachment 1340 Marine Corps League.

May 22, 2014   Hugh Rafferty/Improving North County