SOLANA BEACH — Joe Sturdivant vividly remembers the day in 1984 when he learned the history of the United States Marine Corps in his high school American government class.
“That piqued my interest … about what the Marines did to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the now-retired master sergeant said as the guest speaker during the annual Solana Beach Veterans Day ceremony.
“Days later the recruiters came to our school and I saw this Marine recruiter in a uniform and I said, ‘I want to be like him.’ And from that day on I’ve never had any other desire than to be an American Marine.”
While serving in the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, Sturdivant said he learned that “service is selfless.”
“It needs to be done with humility,” he said. “It needs to be done with sincerity. The military teaches about the ethos of respect, commitment, camaraderie and most of all dedication, self-restrain and self-discipline.”
He said service to the nation is also about sacrifice.
“It is (something) that a lot of our veterans do for a cause that some people will never understand … but that’s OK,” he added.
Sturdivant noted that all veterans, when they join the military, take an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
“They serve for the purpose of freedom, liberty and justice,” he said. “We, as a people, need to be mindful of the sacrifices day in and day out of those who served and those who support service members.”
As a transition patient advocate for the San Diego Department of Veterans Affairs, Sturdivant now helps seriously injured veterans navigate the VA system to get the “services they deserve,” he said.
“I have an awesome opportunity to work as a continued servant with our veterans and I’m grateful for that,” he said. “I get the opportunity to see what our veterans do and what they contribute to the nation.
“I get motivated when I see …what they went through and what they experienced,” he added. “It has been an honor and privilege to serve my fellow brothers and sisters that I served with.”
But Sturdivant said he would like to do more to help, especially for those who take their lives or the veteran who recently left the VA angry and was arrested.
“It touched my heart because I know what it’s like to see them struggle,” he said, urging others to “be more compassionate” and, like our veterans, selfless.
“Giving service after you leave the service is something that we fall short of for the now-returning combat veterans,” Sturdivant said. “I highly encourage our younger veterans today to be a part of something greater than themselves. Volunteerism is very important.”
While running the Marine Corps marathon recently, he noticed banners along the way with the faces of people who were wounded or killed in action.
“When I saw the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice I was reminded we, as a nation need to be strong and that we, as a nation, need to be together,” he said. “We as a nation need to continue to exercise the freedom of liberty and be good stewards in our communities.”
The Nov. 11 event at La Colonia Park, co-hosted by the city and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5431, was attended by VFW members representing all branches of the military, current and former City Council members, County Supervisor Dave Roberts, the Camp Pendleton Young Marines and area residents.
“The service members we honor today came from all walks of life, but they shared several fundamental qualities,” Mayor Dave Zito said. “They possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity – all qualities needed to serve a cause larger than one’s self.
“We are indebted to them forever,” he added.
The Santa Fe Christian High School band performed patriotic songs. The private school’s dance troupe tap-danced to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the chorale sang “God Bless America.”
The ceremony ended with the release of white doves.
“I ask that these birds carry our souls and spirits upward toward our Father’s house in Heaven,” VFW Post Commander Randy Treadway said. “God bless our troops. We thank them for their service, and God bless America.”