Alejo announces Veterans of the Year

Local Assemblyman Luis Alejo announced eight Veterans of the Year for today’s Veterans Day.

The following is the announcement from Alejo, who is finishing his run in the Assembly after being termed out.

Assemblymember Luis A. Alejo (D-Salinas) today announced eight Veteran of the Year award recipients for 2016. Recipients were chosen based on their exemplary military service, community service and support for veterans in the community. Each Veteran of the Year will be recognized during various Veterans Day celebrations throughout the 30th Assembly district on Veterans Day, Friday November 11th.

“Our veterans risk their lives to protect American values and our freedoms,” Alejo said. “My father served during the Vietnam War and it is a privilege to honor and pay tribute to him and our veterans for their service to our great nation. This year I am honored to recognize Phil Orozco, Richard Cerros Sr. and Tony Virrueta of Monterey County; Menko Rose III and William Neighbors of Santa Cruz County; Bernardo “Bernie” Ramirez of San Benito County and Robert “Bobby” Armendariz and Eddie Bowers of Santa Clara County as the 2016 Veteran of the Year award recipients.”

Menko Rose III of Santa Cruz County, U.S. Army
Menko Rose was born in 1925 and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943, at the height of WWII. He served as a rifleman in the 90th Infantry Division and was severely injured by shrapnel from bomb blasts during the Battle of the Bulge. Rose recovered and was awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and World War II Victory Medal and several other medals, along with three Bronze Service Stars. Nineteen years after the war ended Mr. Rose suffered an “abreaction,” a reliving of the trauma suffered during the war. Working with a renowned psychologist through the Veterans Administration, Menko helped develop Skilligence™, a Framework for Lifelong Intelligence Building. Approaching the age of 91, Mr. Rose continues to dedicate himself to helping other veterans by teaching free Skilligence™ workshops for veterans in the Monterey Bay region. The workshops are designed for all veterans, including those returning from military service and integrating themselves back into civilian life. His work promoting lifelong learning helps veterans overcome obstacles and expand opportunities.

Bernardo “Bernie” Ramirez of San Benito County, U.S. Army
Mr. Ramirez was born and raised in Hollister. He quit school to join the U.S. Army, and served as an infantryman with the 9th Infantry Division 3/5th CAV in Dong Ha by the DMZ in Vietnam from 1969-70. Mr. Ramirez joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9242 in Hollister, initially serving in the Honor Guard. Two years ago, he volunteered and was nominated to become Post Commander. Mr. Ramirez has agreed to serve a third year to ensure that programs he had set up will continue. He is setting some new goals for the VFW, especially bringing in and helping new OIF/OEF veterans and getting a flagpole. Mr. Ramirez came up with the idea of recognizing service members from the community who are currently serving by hanging a banner with their name and picture on light poles in downtown Hollister, flying until their safe return. Mr. Ramirez reached out to a Mexican family in Salinas, whose 21 year old son, Vilmar Galarza Hernandez, had been killed when he was hit by an IED on his second deployment to Afghanistan on May 26, 2012. He helped Mr. Hernández’s parents, who only spoke Spanish, translating for them and helping them sort through a variety of issues the death of their son brought.

Richardo Cerros Sr. of Monterey County, U.S. Army
Mr. Cerros enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1983, completing his One Station Training at Fort Benning, Ga., as an infantryman. He was then assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, Ca. Mr. Cerros served with the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry Division, where he was a team leader, rising to the rank of sergeant. After leaving the unit, Mr. Cerros joined the California National Guard, supporting the Gilroy unit for one year as the track commander of the TOW unit. He transferred to the Salinas 149th Armor Regiment, where he served as a track commander for the mortar platoon. Mr. Cerros retired from the military in 1989 and ever since has remained actively involved in the veterans community, regularly volunteering for the Veterans Day Parade, among other activities.

Robert “Bobby” Armendariz of Santa Clara County, U.S. Army
Mr. Armendariz began his military training and advanced infantry training at Fort Lewis, Wa., gaining knowledge in the armored division as a tank driver and infantry light weapons specialist. He was deployed to Germany as part of a Ranger Unit with the 16th Infantry, Alpha Company, First Battalion. Mr. Armendariz supported his unit as a tank driver. His deep knowledge of armored vehicles led to his promotion as a Specialist 4. After an honorable discharge from the Army, Mr. Armendariz married his wife, Lucy, and began his career at Crown-Zellerbach, a paper products corporation, where he worked for 30 years until his retirement. Mr. Armendariz is deeply committed to the veterans community and is involved in several local military organizations, most notably the American Legion, Gilroy Post 217, where he has served as Vice Commander and is currently Commander. Under his guidance, Gilroy Post 217 has distinguished itself as a community leader that regularly awards scholarships, recognition awards and Veteran of the Year and Educator of the Year awards.

Phil Orozco of Monterey County, U.S. Marine Corps
Mr. Orozco enrolled in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1969. After graduation from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, he was assigned to Camp Lejeune, NC, where he continued his training. Assigned to the 3rd Battalion 6th Marine Regiment, he served a seven-month tour with the U.S. Navy 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean followed by a four-month tour in the Caribbean. Mr. Orozco completed jungle training with Fort Sherman Special Forces in Panama. Upon his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, he served an additional 12 years with the California National Guard’s 149th Armored Regiment. In his civilian life, Mr. Orozco has continuously supported fellow veterans. He has contributed to the Salinas Community as an active member of American Legion Post No. 31, where he has served as an Executive Board member and Post Commander. On Nov. 11, 2011 residents of the City of Salinas celebrated the city’s first Veteran’s Day Parade, a project that came to fruition under Mr. Orozco’s leadership.

Tony Virrueta of Monterey County, U.S. Army Rangers
Mr. Virrueta is a decorated combat veteran and former U.S. Army Ranger, who served with honor and distinction in Panama and South America, where he participated in more than 40 parachute jumps during his military career. While in service to his country, he consistently demonstrated his outstanding skills and an unwavering dedication to duty and excellence. Upon his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, Mr. Virrueta returned to his home town of Salinas. In his civilian life he continues to support his fellow veterans, most especially the many Latinos from Monterey County who have served in the military, and to contribute to the Salinas community as an active member of American Legion Post No. 31. As a strong advocate of veterans programs and services, he has actively promoted the legacies of the men and women from Monterey County who have worn the uniform of our nation’s armed forces. Mr. Virrueta helped to organize Salinas’ first Veterans Day Parade in 2011. The annual Veterans Day Parade has become a very well-attended event, with residents coming from all over Monterey County to honor local veterans for their service and sacrifice. Mr. Virrueta continues his enthusiastic involvement in all facets of the Veterans Day Parade, serving as principle fundraiser and Master of Ceremonies.

Eddie Bowers of Santa Clara County, U.S. Army
A Vietnam veteran, Eddie Bowers joined the U.S. Army in October 1967 soon after graduation from Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill. After completing his basic training, he was assigned to the 145th Combat Aviation Battalion, 118th Attack Helicopter Company, and was stationed in Bin Hoa, where he served as a door gunner on Huey gunships. During three tours of duty, during Mr. Bowers was awarded two Army commendation medals and 44 Air Medals, each Air Medal representing 25 hours of combat in the air. He achieved the rank of E-4 soldier and was honorably discharged in 1970. He returned to his home of Morgan Hill and married this wife, Elvira, and began a career as a barber, from which he is now retired. In 1998 Mr. Bowers felt the need to return to Vietnam, to the scene of many traumatic events that affected U.S. military personnel and the Vietnamese people. He has since returned to Vietnam on several trips, often accompanied by fellow Vietnam veterans. Mr. Bowers’ commitment to his fellow veterans in the Morgan Hill community is evidenced by his active involvement with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and his participation in the city’s annual Veterans Day memorial ceremony. Mr. Bowers organized the ceremony in 1990 to honor and remember the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country and to honor and recognize local residents who have served and those currently involved in overseas conflicts.

William Neighbors of Santa Cruz County, U.S. Army
Mr. Neighbors proudly served in the U.S. Army from 1965-1969, rising to the rank of sergeant before concluding his military career. After his Army service he moved to Watsonville and married his wife, Virgie. He has lived in Watsonville for 48 years. Mr. Neighbors distinguished himself professionally as a Coca-Cola executive for 25 years. Over the years, Mr. Neighbors has contributed greatly to the Watsonville community. He is a cofounder of Watsonville’s National Night Out, which he continues to support as a committee member. Mr. Neighbors also served as a Watsonville Police Volunteer Community Service Officer for 25 years. He is also a member of Watsonville’s Certified Emergency Response and Post Incidents teams. His contributions to the Watsonville community and Greater Santa Cruz County are extensive, and include his leadership involvement with the Watsonville Strawberry Festival and Watsonville Fourth of July and Veterans Day parades. He has also served on the boards of the Watsonville Police Assistance Fund, the Watsonville Police Activity League, Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Loaves and Fishes. He has also served on the Watsonville Planning Commission and the Santa Cruz County Drug and Alcohol and Mobile Home commissions.

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