Burb's Eye View: Burbank presents a banner day for new veterans

The blue banners that line Burbank's streets contain few words, but say volumes about the city's military history. In stark white letters they thank active-duty military personnel, a simple message for those who serve.

Take the one honoring Michelle "Mitzi" (Koch) Hawk, a 1988 Burroughs High graduate. On Monday, it will go home with its rightful owner, and its heartfelt "Thank you" barely can begin to tell the story of a life spent in defense of her country.

Hawk entered the Air Force on her 19th birthday. She says she wasn't motivated to go to college then, but the Air Force gave her a job that enabled her to see the world.

"I did want to do something, and [the] military looked like a good way to start a career," she said. "It proved definitely to be … I became a medic, which is basically the equivalent to a civilian nurse."

She served for 13 years (including Operation Desert Storm) as a field medic, saving lives in battle. She eventually did earn a college degree and, in 2002, Hawk was competitively selected to become an officer. Since then, she has worked as a program manager developing new weapons systems.

In August, she and her husband both retired from the military, ending one chapter but beginning another as she enters civilian life and plots her next career.

During Monday's Veterans Day observance, Hawk will be presented the banner that flew in her name. For this new veteran, it adds extra meaning to a day filled with reflection.

"In past Veterans Days, it's a range [of emotion] — you think of not so much yourself but more your friends and colleagues who are currently deployed, and also older veterans who retired long ago and who were killed in action and POWs," Hawk said.

The city began its current Veterans Day observance in 1988 when the Vietnam and Korea monuments were added to the World War II installation at McCambridge Park.

"We want to remember all who have gone before us — and the 'new' veterans that are joining us," said Mickey DePalo of Burbank's Veterans Committee.

This year's ceremony will feature a keynote speech from the oldest living Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Bob Friend of Irvine. The Tuskegee Airmen were pilots in World War II who were the first black military aviators in the armed forces. Friend enlisted in 1942.

The ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. Monday at McCambridge Park, 1515 N Glenoaks Blvd. It will feature a flyover by a Condor squadron.

For Hawk, who now lives in Mississippi, the weekend signifies a double homecoming — her 25th high school reunion is Saturday. Then it's back home where she'll plan some post-retirement trips around the country before figuring out what she and her husband plan to do next.

Her banner has come down, but more will go up. We'll look forward to handing these banners back when those veterans come home as well.


BRYAN MAHONEY writes about Burbank neighbors and the place they call home. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.


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