Long Beach honors those who’ve served with Veterans Day celebration at Houghton Park

A beer garden, a War Dog aircraft darting through the skies and nostalgic ’80s rock music made the Veterans Day celebration on Saturday in North Long Beach feel like it was straight out of “Top Gun.”

The event kicked off around noon at Houghton Park’s Veterans Valor Plaza with a presentation of the flag by Lakewood High School’s color guard, followed by the Star-Spangled Banner.

Brenden Sheetz (left) and Ryan Tolson as part of the color guard’s presentation of the flag during the Veterans Day celebration at Houghton Park Saturday, Nov. 12. Photo by Fernando Haro Garcia.

“It feels great to be here to honor those that have served and those that will serve,” said Ryan Tolson, a senior at Lakewood High School and member of its Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Army veteran Steve Keesal was recognized at the event by Councilmember Rex Richardson and other community representatives for his work serving both the country and his community. Keesal was also selected as this year’s Grand Marshal.

“I’m so humbled to be here today,” he said. Joey King, another community volunteer, was also honored at the event.

Late former North Long Beach councilmember and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Val Lerch, who was honored during the 2021 celebration, was also briefly remembered this year for the work he did for veterans. A portrait of Lerch in his service uniform has since been added to a mural at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Harding Street celebrating Long Beach veterans.

“He was instrumental in getting a lot of veterans, especially young veterans, connected in this community,” said Gus Orozco, co-organizer of the event and Veterans Affairs Commissioner.

The event didn’t feature its traditional parade for the third year in a row, with organizers instead opting to provide community service opportunities and more physical activities and events for families, which Orozco said appeared to generate more interest from the younger veterans.

A plane flies an American flag above the Veterans Day celebration at Houghton Park in North Long Beach Saturday, Nov. 12. Photo by Fernando Haro Garcia.

Knyght Ryder, an ’80s and ’90s cover band, performs The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love,” during the Veterans Day celebration at Houghton Park Saturday, Nov. 12. Photo by Fernando Haro Garcia.

Knyght Ryder’s keyboardist plays a keytar to perform the intro to Van Halen’s “Jump” during the Veterans Day celebration at Houghton Park Saturday, Nov. 12. Photo by Fernando Haro Garcia.

A child uses a slide after passing through an 85-foot-long obstacle course during the Veterans Day celebration at Houghton Park Saturday, Nov. 12. Photo by Fernando Haro Garcia.

Councilmember Rex Richardson speaks to guests during the Veterans Day celebration at Houghton Park Saturday, Nov. 12. Photo by Fernando Haro Garcia.

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Fernando Haro is the Long Beach Post's breaking news and public safety reporter.
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