Pat Murphy — Vista, CA …The moderately warm July afternoon was strikingly beautiful as I pulled into the driveway to Sergeant Major Parker’s driveway. A gentle on-shore breeze wafted up to the ridge overlooking Vista High School. The red, white and blue flag that the Sergeant Major always flies was waving gently as my wife and I approached the front door. “Come on in” called out Parker’s wife Ann.
They were expecting our arrival because they had asked us if we would drive them to the Moonlight Amphitheater for the City of Vista’s annual “Light up the Night” Independence Day celebration. This was going to be a special night for the 100 year old Marine Corp veteran. Tonight Sergeant Major Parker was being honored by the city of Vista for his service to country and his service to the City of Vista.
But first we had to find his white belt. The dress uniform he was wearing demanded that a white belt be worn around the outside of the jacket. However, it didn’t take Ann long to find the wayward belt and soon we were on the way. We were meeting The Sergeant Major’s sons Bob and Jim, along with their spouses (both named Nancy), at the Moonlight Amphitheater. Thanks to some generous sponsors the Parker family was being treated to parking and dinner at the venue.
As we entered the Amphitheater people took note of the Sergeant Major’s uniform. Numerous people stopped him and thanked him for his service. Several even asked if they could get their picture taken with him. He wasn’t used to receiving such attention. He looked ready to retreat when Recreation and Community Services Management Analyst, Imelda Huerta greeted us. Imelda had coordinated the effort to pay tribute to military heroes with Colleen Smith.
Dinner was from one of Vista’s top restaurants, “When Pigs Fly”. Tasty mouth-watering Brisket, Pulled Pork and Pulled Chicken were featured. Slicing up generous portions of brisket was restaurant owner Dale Ginos. The food was outstanding but the dessert almost over shadowed the tasty meat. That’s because it was Tammy’s Gino’s famous Smoked Peach Cobbler.
Photos by Pat Murphy
The Sergeant Major wasn’t the only honoree that Imelda had rounded up. Major General Thomas G. Lightner, United States Army, Retired was also being recognized. Both Lightner and Parker had impressive military careers. Respectfully they served their country in the armed forces for 32 years and 36 years. Both had earned prestigious medals and awards. Among Lightner’s many awards are the Distinguished Service Medal and the Bronze Star. Parker has the Purple Heart and a special recognition from the Secretary of Defense.
These two heroes didn’t stop with serving their country. The General worked with several Defense Contractors and told me his goal was to insure the military had what they needed to do their job. He now works with wounded warriors as the Chairman of Turn Around for Veterans, a group that provides woodturning lessons to the wounded veterans as a form of therapy. Sergeant Major Parker worked for years in Vista as a Code Enforcement Officer and then as a member of the Senior Volunteer Sheriff’s Patrol.
In addition to honoring the two great soldiers, the City also brought up on stage two active duty Marines to present them with plaques to thank them for their service. From HMLA 369 at Camp Pendleton, the crowd was introduced to Lance Corporal Ashtyn Hammer and Sergeant Ashley Lazareno. Their awards and the awards given to Lightner and Parker were presented by Deputy Mayor John Aguilera. Aguilera told us this was the 50th anniversary of the City providing this celebration.
On hand to thank all four recipients were City Council Members, Amanda Young Rigby, John Franklin, and Joe Green. Also offering congratulations was Lt. Col. Jonathan Bidstrup the Commanding officer of HMLA 369. This is the unit at Camp Pendleton that has been adopted by the City of Vista.
Major General Lightner was accompanied by his son Jeffery and Jeffery’s family. As he accepted his award he told the audience what it honor it was for him to serve. He impressed everyone with his sincere and humble acceptance. He also said he was proud to be on the same stage with Sergeant Major Parker.
An hour of great music followed the awards ceremony. The Mar Dels had people up dancing in the aisles. But the fireworks show is what had drawn thousands of spectators to Brengle Terrace Park and as advertised; it started right at 9 pm. It was quite a show and at times the Amphitheater was lit up as bright as daylight.
During the entertainment, people stopped by the table to shake Sergeant Major Parker’s hand and thank him for his service. Most were impressed that he had celebrated his 100th birthday in May. At one point in time, I looked across the table to see the 100 year old Marine admiring an 8 month old child. Later on he told me it was “a very special evening”.
It was indeed a very special night. It was a patriotic night, a family night, a historic night, and a night to remember. The City of Vista had really celebrated big time with “Light up the Night”.