Veterans honored in Forest Lawn ceremony

Army Capt. Justin Babcock has become used to hearing people say thank you. Just last week, on two separate occasions, someone bought his coffee for him as a thank you for his service.

“But it didn’t always used to be like that,” Babcock said before about 350 people at Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks & Mortuaries’ 52nd annual Veterans Day Ceremony Friday.

Babcock, who did two tours in Iraq before becoming company commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Company, surveyed a crowd filled with older veterans and their families. He said that the support that veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq now get wasn’t always shown to veterans of earlier wars.

“When people thank me, in my heart, I thank you,” Babcock said, referring to older veterans.

The ceremony, which kicked off with four skydivers landing at the Hollywood Hills cemetery — one of which carried a large American flag that flapped in the wind — included musical tributes and rifle salutes. Children in camouflage clothing and Boy Scout uniforms waved American flags. Military caps and American flag bandannas and hats dotted the crowd. Some wore jackets with patches symbolizing their service during the war in Vietnam. Others had T-shirts representing the advocacy group Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“You made the most sacred promise an American citizen can make. You pledged to protect your country,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the group, adding that they “faced death straight on” so others could enjoy freedom.

Villaraigosa referenced the Senate’s Thursday approval of part of President Obama’s jobs plan that gives tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans. He described it as an example of government action to support the troops.

“If we’re not making sure when they come back that they have a roof over their heads, a job [and] the services they need, then we’re really not doing what we’re saying we’re supposed to do,” he said.

Tara McArthur-Milton, commanding officer at Navy Recruiting District San Diego, described new recruits as top-notch individuals dedicated to serving their country.

“They have this intense desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” she said, adding that as much as that encourages them to serve, support from back home plays a large role.

“It’s knowing that we make a difference and knowing that you appreciate it,” McArthur-Milton said.

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