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June 30, 2022

Veterans Day ceremony returns after pandemic hiatus

*Note: Erik Chalhoub contributed to this report

Watsonville’s Veterans Day Celebration returns to downtown after last year’s in-person event was cancelled due to Covid-19.

Veterans and others will begin gathering at 9:30am on Nov. 11 in the parking lot of St. Patrick’s Church, 721 Main St. At 10am, the Chesty Puller Battalion, United States Naval Sea Cadets will lead the parade carrying the Colors, followed by the veterans and then other parade participants.

They will march down Main Street, turn left on East Beach Street and finish at the Henry J. Mello Center, 250 East Beach St.

The program will take place inside the Mello Center at 11am with the ringing of the bell.

During the ceremony, Tony Rojas and Rick Sanchez will be honored as Veterans of the Year.

In addition to the

After the ceremony, the American Legion and Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez will be hosting a luncheon for all attendees. The luncheon will be hosted by volunteer students of Watsonville High in their newly remodeled cafeteria.  Music during lunch will be performed by Jose Camacho and the Activities For All band. American Legion Commander Felipe Hernandez will be emcee of the luncheon.

VFW Post 1716 Veteran of the Year: Tony Rojas

Whenever there is an event honoring veterans, Tony Rojas is there, bugle in hand.

He’s performed “Taps” at countless Veterans Day ceremonies in Watsonville and the region, as well as at funerals for service members, regardless of whether he knew them or not, he notes.

Rojas, a retired U.S. Air Force Airman 2nd Class, has also received recognition from numerous organizations and government representatives for his service. He’ll soon add another honor to his illustrious career, as the VFW Post 1716 will recognize him as its Veteran of the Year during the Veterans Day Celebration on Nov. 11.

Growing up in Arizona, Rojas said he was drawn to the bugle as a young boy. His goal was to play “Call to the Colors” at his elementary school, so he approached his principal with the idea.

The principal agreed, Rojas recalled, and from that point on, he performed the song every morning at school.

Not too long after, his father approached him with a task that would serve as a defining moment in his life.

“My father worked at the cemetery, and he said, ‘Son, I have an honorable job for you. I want you to play ‘Taps’ for our fallen veterans,’” Rojas said. “With great pride I took on the task to play ‘Taps.’”

The following year, Rojas joined the Boy Scouts, and became the bugler of Troop 24. He later joined the Arizona National Guard 158 infantry and played the bugle for several events. Rojas also served at Fort Huachuca for nearly three years.

In 1952, Rojas joined the Air Force, and was deployed to the Far East, Africa, Azores and French Morocco, ending his term at Forbes Air Force Base in Kansas.

At the end of his military service, Rojas moved to Watsonville.

He retired as a professional musician in 2010, capping a career that included many performances at venues throughout the Bay Area, and even playing at the Western White House for President Richard Nixon’s staff.

Rojas is married to his wife Valie for 66 years, and they have four daughters, one granddaughter and one grandson.

He said he has played his bugle to honor veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War for more than 65 years.

“I am a very proud veteran and bugler,” Rojas said, adding that he hopes to one day perform “Taps” at the Arlington National Cemetery. “I feel every veteran deserves a bugle call and this is something we must never forget.”

Rick Sanchez is shown at the American Legion Hall in Watsonville. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

American Legion Post 121 Veteran of the Year: Rick Sanchez

Rick Sanchez enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1982. He did his basic training at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, and was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where as a corporal, he specialized in the M60 rifle and the 50-caliber machine gun.

He was deployed to Lebanon in 1982, and served in Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Guam, Panama, Honduras, Puerto Rico, and did cold weather training in New York and Norway.

“We were never in one place for three months, we were always on deployment,” he says.

After serving three years, he completed a carpentry apprentice program in Santa Clara, and moved to Watsonville 26 years ago.

Sanchez has been a member of the Watsonville American Legion Post 121 for 22 years, serving as commander, financial officer adjutant and second vice.

Sanchez’s father served in WWII, and his brother in the Vietnam War. He says he has turned down the veteran of the year honor twice. Like many veterans, he says he enlisted–and continues to help with the American Legion–because of a sense of duty to his country.

“I really didn’t think I deserved it,” he said. “We just do these things to help out. We don’t do it to get brownie points. It’s to honor our country and make sure we do our service.”

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