Orange PD honor guard takes center stage at Orange Field of Valor ceremony

By Bradley Zint

An honor guard contingent from the Orange Police Department was front and center Saturday in a special Veterans Day ceremony.

For the fourth-annual Orange Field of Valor, organized by the Community Foundation of Orange, five members of the guard gave a presentation of colors before hundreds who came out to Handy Park for the field’s opening-day ceremonies.

Michele Stepp of Orange walks with her 1-year-old dog, Luna, through the field of flags before the start of opening ceremonies. Her father, veteran Jerry Bayless, of Westminster, participated in the ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The park contained 1,776 flags, all of which were staked early Saturday, Nov. 10, by a host of volunteers.

Each flag represented an active-duty service member, living veteran, or one who died in service to the country.

Community members sponsored the flags, giving proceeds that will be donated to local nonprofits serving veterans or active-duty personnel and their families.

London Sanderson, 4, of Long Beach runs through the field of flags before the start of opening ceremonies. Her family sponsored flags for her grandfather, Marine Cpl. Gene Lawrence Bonas, who served in Vietnam, and her great grandfather, Navy Torpedoman 1st. Class Lawrence Bonas, who served in World War II.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The previous three Field of Valor events raised $81,000, organizers said.

Presenting the American flag, California flag and city seal flag were five honor guard members: Investigator Augie Rocha, the team captain; Officer Colten Ivans; Detective Daniel O’Neil-Tennant; Investigator Miguel Zamora; and Officer Alec Kovak.

Orange’s honor guard has 10 members who have been doing their duties for about five years.

Navy Veteran Jerry Bayless salutes during the National Anthem at the start of the 2018 Orange Field of Valor opening ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Saturday’s ceremony was particularly significant for Rocha, a Marine Corps veteran. He served from 1991 to 2001 as a helicopter crew chief, attaining the rank of sergeant.

“It’s an honor and privilege for us to pay back the veterans who actually paved the way,” Rocha, a member of the department for 14 years, said. “The ones in the wheelchairs, the ones who actually did some things that most people can’t handle, but because of them, we have our freedom today.”

People gather at the center of the field of flags at the conclusion of the 2018 Orange Field of Valor opening ceremony at Handy Park in Orange on Nov. 10.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Rocha noted that Saturday also was the Marine Corps’ 243rd birthday. Some Orange Police Department personnel celebrated that on their own Thursday with a cake.

Orange’s Fire Department also made an appearance Saturday, bringing a fire truck and hot dog grill with them. They attached a gigantic American flag to a ladder and hoisted it over the Field of Valor entrance.

Families walk through 1,776 American flags on the field at Handy Park in Orange for the 2018 Orange Field of Valor ceremony on Nov. 10.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

That afternoon, the Condor Squadron, a group of four World War II-era AT-6 airplanes, made flyovers above the park.

Among the veterans in attendance was John McGovern. He served in the Navy from 1950 to 1954 during the Korean War as a combat intelligence specialist aboard aircraft carriers. He attained the rank of petty officer third class.

When he came home, McGovern, who now lives in Banning but comes to Orange to visit family, continued his service for 27 years at the Garden Grove Fire Department, where he became a captain. He retired in 1987.

Supporters proudly hold checks representing the amount of money raised for various veterans charities during the 2018 Orange Field of Valor ceremony at Handy Park on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

McGovern said he walked among the flags and got a chance to read stories about the servicemen they represent.

“Some of them were Medal of Honor winners,” he noted. “The sacrifice some of these people made, it’s amazing. There are a lot of heroes out there.”

There were heroes like two-time Purple Heart recipient John Kenneth Koontz, a staff sergeant from Los Alamitos and expert rifleman who served in the Army during the Vietnam War. He retired from the service in 1968, receiving the Bronze Star for valor.

Orange PD Honor Guard Officers (from left) Colten Ivans, Daniel O’Neil-Tennant, Miguel Zamora, Alic Kovac, and Augie Rocha post the colors at the start of the 2018 Orange Field of Valor opening ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Also among the heroes was the American flag for Private First Class Sadao S. Munemori, a World War II Army soldier. While fighting in Italy, he saw an unexploded grenade bounce off his helmet and roll toward his fellow soldiers. In a heroic act moments later, he smothered the blast with his body, saving the lives of two others and clearing a path for his group’s advance.

Munemori died when he was 22 years. He received the Medal of Honor, posthumously, in 1946.

A total of 1,776 flags stand in Handy Park, many of them sponsored, including one for Army Private Harold Fannin of Orange, who served in Vietnam.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Attendees of the 2018 Orange Field of Valor opening ceremony watch a flyover at Handy Park in Orange.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge