WHITTIER, Calif. – Soldiers from the California Army National Guard honored World War II veterans Sal Guzman and Randy Zepeda Fernandez during a birthday celebration coordinated by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department May 24.
“I think it’s important to honor our veterans for their sacrifices. We as Soldiers join the military and write a blank check to the USA to help defend this country against all enemies,” said Carlos Levario Jr., a deputy sheriff with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Levario, who helped coordinate the event through his civilian job, understands the importance of military service, as he is the brigade command sergeant major of the Cal Guard’s 100th Troop Command.
“We join the military and give everything, including our life, and we ask for nothing in return but the opportunity to serve,” he said. “So, if I ever have a chance to give my thanks to those veterans that have come before us, then we should.”
The veterans became lifelong friends after meeting in the second grade and graduating together from James A. Garfield High School before enlisting in the military at the onset of World War II.
Guzman, 97, joined the U.S. Coast Guard, while Fernandez, 96, enlisted in the U.S. Army. Both served from 1943-1946.
“These two gentlemen represent the greatest generation. It was an incredible honor to be able to meet and honor them,” said Lt. Col David S. Chang, the commander of the Cal Guard’s 250th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion, based out of Long Beach.
The event was coordinated by Fernandez’s son, Steve Fernandez, with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and American Legion Star Post 309. The celebration included a helicopter flyover, a mariachi band playing “Happy Birthday” as well as a parade of sheriff’s department vehicles, a Cal Guard Humvee, and well-wishers.