By Miriam Raftery
November 12, 2012 (El Cajon )—Congressional members Duncan Hunter and Susan Davis, community leaders, a Navy color guard and citizens from across East County turned out this morning for a ceremony honoring veterans, celebrating the city of El Cajon’s centennial, and dedicating two legacy projects.
“May El Cajon continue to be the gateway to East County, a refugee to many, a thriving community and place we all call home,” Chaplain Chuck Price with the El Cajon Police entreated in the invocation.
A community procession included local high school marching bands and cheerleaders, mounted police on horseback, tumblers and craft students from the El Cajon recreation Department, Boy Scouts, a vintage fire truck and police vehicle, as well as Miss El Cajon and her court. Musicians from the East County Youth Symphony performed for a diverse crowd that filled the plaza in front of city hall.
“In our hearts, we’re still a little bit country here in El Cajon and East County,” said Congressman Duncan Hunter, who hailed the community as well the men and women who have served in our armed forces, in honor of Veterans’ Day. He spoke of his hopes to secure a Medal of honor posthumously for Rafael Peralta, a soldier who came to America illegally but ultimately gave his life in service to his country.
“He joined the Marine Corps and fought in the battle of Fallujah, where I was,” Rep. Hunter said. “Before he died, he grabbed a hand grenade and pulled it under his body, saving others….You look at this new generation and it gives us hope for the future.” He thanked veterans present for their service, noting that veterans will always remember their experiences “standing with their fellow men and fighting shoulder to shoulder against the enemies of America.”
Hunter introduced Congresswoman Susan Davis, who serves alongside Hunter on the House Armed Services Committee; he praised her for doing a “great job” serving veterans. Davis noted that she and Hunter have worked together across the political aisle to introduce bills that help veterans.
“This is a great time for families to come together and acknowledge those who came before us,” Davis said of the city’s centennial. “Some things have changed, but same things have stayed the same,” she said of the community’s strong family values.
Congresswoman Davis, a military wife and daughter of a World War II medic, also praised veterans. “Our lives would
not be the same without the sacrifice of our veterans,” she said, adding that families of military members also deserve praise. “I salute you, and I salute your children, and all the veterans here today,” she concluded.
The two Congressional members presented a wreath honoring veterans. Rep. Hunter also presented a Congressional proclamation to Mayor Mark Lewis honoring the city’s centennial. View video.
“The most important thing that I ever did in EL Cajon was to meet my wife,” Mayor Lewis said, as his wife beamed proudly in the audience. “The second most important thing is my belief in veterans. My father was a disabled veteran; he died when I was a teenager,” Lewis said, his voice emotional. “When you talk about your freedoms, think about a veteran—and thank them.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tony Ambrose observed that “What the city of El Cajon is all about is volunteerism.” As an example, he talked about a grandmother who drives around in a police car from midnight to 3 a.m. as a volunteer safety patrol.
“We’ll see some great changes in our city because of volunteerism,” he said. Monica Zech, public information officer for the City, noted that over 300 volunteers donated their time for today’s festivities.
Councilman Gary Kendrick, whose father was a veteran, said his first memories in El Cajon are of shopping and learning to swim. He praised the city’s “small town feel”, adding, “We’ve gone through 100 years—and wait ‘til you see the next 100!”
Councilman Bob McClellan shared his boyhood memories of the Mother Goose Parade and noted the appropriateness of the “Valley of Opportunity” slogan chosen for the centennial.
Councilman Bill Wells, whose father came to El Cajon after serving in the military in wartime, praised el Cajon’s neighborly ways. It feels like a 1950s small town and I love that,” he said, then shared a personal story. While mailing a care package to his son, a soldier in Afghanistan, at the local Post Office he met a staffer. “Without asking, she organized care packages for the many others who are serving in Afghanistan and don’t have any care packages,” he said.
Teacher Lynn Caruso’s Chase Avenue Elementary School Reader’s theater gave a presentation of “I am El Cajon,” a poem written by a student that reflects the many people who have contributed to El Cajon’s history—from Native American Kumeyaay people to pioneers, gold miners, developers, and recent immigrants from around the world. View video.
Mayor Lewis, flanked by members of the Council and Miss El Cajon, cut a ribbon to dedicate the plaza area in front of City Hall, one of the new “legacy projects” downtown. The project architect noted that “what I enjoy best is to see folks enjoying the places that we make.”
Veterans of Foreign Wars occupied seats of honor in the front row. Overall, the crowd reflecting the new diversity that is El Cajon a century after its founding, including immigrants from the Middle East and Mexico, African-Americans, Asians, descendants of pioneers and others who came for opportunities here in El Cajon, a once-small town that today is home to 100,116 people.
Booths lined Main Street and adjacent areas, where people could shop from local vendors or learn more at historical displays.
Vintage cars as well as the winning race car belonging to NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson were also on display. Those visiting each booth could get stamps for a passport—and a chance to win a custom-made centennial guitar from Taylor Guitars that will be given away at 5 p.m. today.
In closing, city dignitaries walked to the corner of Main Street and Sulzfeld Way, where they unveiled a new centennial medallion embedded in the sidewalk for future generations of El Cajon residents and visitors to see.