Happy Birthday America, Sweet Land of Liberty!
This morning, as on every Fourth of July for the last 26 years, my neighbors and great Americans, Vince and Dee Villa, host an Independence Day Celebration on 18th Street in front of their San Pedro (Los Angeles) home. By his own admission, Vince is “pushing 90,” and has announced that this year’s event will be their last. Dee assures us that the cherished flags will still fly at their home every 4th, but encourages another family on 18th Street to take over the honor and responsibility of the celebration. We are witnessing the end of an era, and we’re sad yet grateful to Vince and Dee for generously hosting this patriotic neighborhood treasure for over a quarter century.
Neighbors arrive by 7:45 AM and are treated to a doughnut, coffee, and juice buffet hosted by the Villas while they meet and visit with each other.
Out of respect, the Bloody Mary Bar does not open until after the Flag has been raised.
Call to colors by Honor Guard from V.F.W. Post 2967 opens the ceremony at 7:55 AM.
The flag is raised exactly at 8:00 AM, or according to Vince, O8OO hours.
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
God bless America, land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
The Flag is raised, the crowd proudly sings our National Anthem and God Bless America, the Honor Guard gives the 21 Gun Salute (7 guns are fired at the same time 3 times in a row), and 100 White Doves are released into the air.
The trained doves make their way back home to Hacienda Heights, over 20 miles away.
Forever in Peace May You Wave
Vince Villa, a retired WW II Navy diver, shares some history of his vast flag collection.
- The largest, affectionately called the “monster,” flies from the tall pole. This ship’s flag was “ordered” to be given to Vince by the commanding officer of his son’s US Navy battleship.
- The British Flag is a gift from England. This was the ship’s flag of the World War II Royal Navy Ship, the HMS Belfast, which protected the British shores and played an important role in the Battle of North Cape.
- Vince, a native of Hawaii, was given the American Flag seen on the lower level of the staircase in the photo above by Philanthropist Alan Johnson. This flag was found in the water at Pearl Harbor shortly after the bombing in 1941. Covered with oil and debris, the Flag was retrieved and preserved and ultimately acquired by Johnson. Johnson was convinced that the Patriotic World War II Vet born in Hawaii, Lover of the American Flag, and Host of the Quarter-Century Old 4th of July Celebration in San Pedro should be the keeper of This Flag.
- The Flag hanging above the second set of stairs was presented to the Villas by Senators Reid and McConnell. When visiting Washington DC, Vince and Dee were given a special tour of the Capitol. The Flag presented to them was raised at the Capitol at 11OO hours on the Fourth of July, the exact same time the Villas were raising their Flag on the West Coast in San Pedro at O8OO hours.
- Congresswoman Janice Hahn has been attending this Independence Day celebration for over 12 years. Today, she presented the Villas with another flag that had flown over the Capitol in Washington, along with a plaque recognizing their patriotism. She spoke for all of us when she shared with Vince and Dee how much we appreciate their hosting of this beloved event for the past 26 years, and that it truly is a precious slice of Americana, and a cherished piece of the history and culture of our town…
E Pluribus Unum – Latin for From Many, One. San Pedro is composed of people of every religious, racial, ethnic, cultural and national origin. America’s original national motto describes the action of many people uniting into one people – Americans.
On this day, 236 years ago, we chose to become the United States of America, a free nation, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. This is what we proudly celebrate today…here in San Pedro, California and from sea to shining sea.
Happy Birthday America!