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Thousands salute veterans

Orange County Fairgrounds hosts what some are calling the largest Veterans Day event that they can recall.

November 12, 2013|By Bradley Zint
  • Eren Scott and Elizabeth Parker, left, and Care'n Chato and Tony Mercuro, right, dance to the sounds of the Swing Cats Big Band during a Veterans Day event at the Orange County Fairgrounds on Monday.
Eren Scott and Elizabeth Parker, left, and Care'n… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

They came in droves Monday to the Orange County Fairgrounds, many proudly wearing white stickers that read, "I'm a veteran."

The free Veterans Day event, part of a union-led effort called Veterans + Labor: Partners in Service, brought together Southern California veterans young and old, active-duty service members, veterans' support groups and families to celebrate the holiday.

Officials called it the largest Veterans Day event in recent memory. An estimated 3,000 people came to hear the live music, speak to veterans, visit the information booths, learn about American military history and enjoy free hot dogs.

Organizers included the Orange County Employees Assn. and California Labor Federation.

As part of the festivities, 70 motorcyclists rolled in together from a ride that started at the Orange County Labor Federation headquarters in Orange. Also featured was the West Coast unveiling of a new U.S. Postal Service stamp depicting the Medal of Honor.

"So often people forget freedom's not free," said Nick Berardino, OCEA's general manager and a Marine veteran. "It's not free. And suffering that vets go through every single day is something that's to be honored, something to be remembered."

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Berardino told attendees of his plans to help put a veterans museum at the fairgrounds. It might include the Memorial Gardens Building, a World War II-era barracks that was recently saved from the bulldozer and moved to a temporary location within the fairgrounds parking lot.

Pastor Frank Orzio, a Marine who served during Vietnam, gave an invocation. Adorned in his Marine Corps dress blues, he urged a return to traditional values.

"We need to put the flag back on the porch again and invite God back to the dinner table, be a family once again," Orzio said.

Costa Mesa Historical Society President Bob Palazzola and others were also on hand, showing off photographs and other information about the former Santa Ana Army Air Base. The World War II base once took up a sizable chunk of modern-day Costa Mesa, including the 150-acre fairgrounds, Orange Coast College, Vanguard University and City Hall.

The event also included a letter-writing station, where youngsters crafted cards that would be sent to service members throughout the world.

Representatives from the nonprofit American Wheelchair Mission were manning an information booth. Next to them were wheelchairs available to those in need.

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