By Jackie HOUCHIN
On Friday, July 1, L.A. Councilman Paul Krekorian conducted a dedication ceremony for 28 “Honor our Hometown Heroes” banners that had been hung on city light poles along Foothill Boulevard the evening before. The personalized banners honor military men and women from Sunland-Tujunga who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who continue to make sacrifices for their country.
In the ceremony held adjacent to Fire Station #74, Krekorian commended Sunland-Tujunga for being the first community in Los Angeles to start such a project. He then introduced several servicemen and leaders from the community.
Lance Corporal Derek Leiphardt, looking sharp in his Marine dress uniform, and Army Sergeant Richard Hall, in his I-mean-business desert camouflage, expressed their thanks to the community and stated it was a privilege to serve their country.
American Legion #377 Commander Patrick O’Brien remarked that honor was long overdue.
“Our soldiers need to be recognized,” O’Brien said.
Wendal and Deanna Bowers were the inspiration behind the project. According to the couple, the idea began when their son John told them he wanted to join the Air Force. Seeing the fear in his parents’ eyes, the 19-year-old quoted John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.”
After attending his boot camp graduation, their fear mingled with pride and a growing gratitude for the soldiers who were called to fight and die.
“But feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” said Deanna.
Deanna is a fourth grade teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes and a member of their Military Ministry Outreach. Her group decided the best way to show their love and support was to begin a banner project to “ensure that our soldiers wouldn’t be dismissed as those who had served in Vietnam.”
They approached the community with the idea and immediately the Sunland-Tujunga/Shadow Hills Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce and Bolton Hall director Lynn Lowry got behind them. Working through Councilman Paul Krekorian and his director of Special Projects Hrag Yedalian, they got the city of Los Angeles to approve the project and even to waive the permit fees.
Yedalian designed the red white and blue, double-sided three-by-eight foot banners, which feature the honored soldier’s name, his/her branch of service and the official seal of City of Los Angeles. Scott Greenwald at Amcraft was contracted to print and hang the banners (just in time for the ceremony) and to maintain them.
The Bowers thanked everyone involved and offered a “shout out” to son John who is currently at a base in Wyoming waiting deployment.
“John, my Airman, I can’t wait for you to see your banner!” said Deanna.
Rotary Club president Richard Stewart was the last to speak, coming to the podium with a wide grin and his arms raised in victory.
“Thank you, Sunland-Tujunga! We did it! And just in time for the Fourth of July parade!” Stewart said.
Hometown Heroes banners cost $250 each, but no one will be required to pay if they can’t afford it.
“Any donation – even five or 10 dollars, or nothing – is okay,” said Yedalian. He urged the community to donate or even sponsor a banner to make this happen.
The Sunland-Tujunga/Shadow Hills Rotary Club started the ball rolling by sponsoring five banners for veterans of each of the previous five wars: World War I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf War. The will collect all future donations, which are tax deductible.
Only 40 to 50 city light poles are available for banners from Lowell Avenue in Tujunga to the Sunland Park in Sunland.
“The idea is to keep them on Foothill Boulevard,” Yedalian said, “but we could expand them deeper into side streets if needed. We’ll find a creative way to do that.”
Krekorian read the names of the 23 honored soldiers, representing the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard and National Guard. A lengthy list of banner sponsors followed.
“You have reason to be proud, Sunland-Tujunga,” he concluded. “Once again you are leading Los Angeles.”