Tiny, handheld flags waved elegantly in the fingers of excited youth. In a couple minutes, they would be seeing the faces of some of the men whose feet they kept dry and, presumably, their hearts warm.
On the morning of May 23, honored the brave members of the 1st Combat Engineering Battalion of the United States Marine Corps -- a group of soldiers “adopted” by some of the members of the Cerritos community – during their flag retirement ceremony.
In 2008, a then 6th grade Gonsalves student named Lance Manzon, helped start a program called “Sock It To Me,” which collects black tube socks for the 1st CEB (who, at the time, were stationed in Afghanistan). Now 15 and ending his freshman year at La Mirada High School, Manzon attended the special ceremony, handed out little flags to students and stood side-by-side with five of the soldiers his program helped care for.
“We got 700 pairs our first year,” Manzon said. “And this year we got 1,400. I’m just hoping the next coming years, we get more and more. I’ve done a lot, but it’s really the kids at these schools – especially the student council. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think this project would be this big.”
A group of Boys and Girls Scouts led the school’s flag in for its traditional burning -- a respectful way of retiring an American flag. In pieces, the flag was placed into a small fire pit while awe-struck students stood mesmerized by the dissipating smoke blowing into the air.
Felix Yiu, a 12-year-old Boy Scount, proudly held a small flag at the front of the flag procession, and expressed pride in knowing that the brand new socks helped to make a difference.
“It felt very nice (to donate socks),” Yiu said. “I know the soldiers get sore feet all the time.”
Christopher Yanney, 13, has great admiration for the soldiers and hopes to one day serve his country as well.
“It’s a great inspiration," he said. “They’re the big guys. They come in and do all the dirty work.”
Sixth grade teacher, Dr. Ronald Bridgette said the "Sock It To Me" program shows the school’s compassion and empathy towards those in need – especially the soldiers.
“This flag ceremony represents all that America is,” Bridgette said. “It stands for the red, white and the blue, the purity and the faith and the loyalty that this country portrayed.”
At the conclusion of the short ceremony, the soldiers spoke to some of the teachers, met Manzon and took photos with George and Bev Ray, members of the 1st CEB Adoption Committee -- a group dedicated to showing hospitality to the soldiers by treating them to an afternoon of bowling, showing them around Cerritos and even sending care packages to each soldier.
“I think it’s great that the City of Cerritos adopted us,” Sgt. Tyrell Hicks said. “They do a “Marine-of-the-Month” program and they recognize Marines who do outstanding things.”
Sgt. Julian Briones also expressed his gratitude for the city's efforts and for the children who take the time to help them .
“They’re there for our families as well...for our spouses and kids,” Briones said, adding that the socks received are extremely important to the soldiers, given the desert conditions in Afghanistan. “When we’re out there, we get our socks. We go through them fast, so it’s nice to get new ones, and when they’re bad, we’re not around to get them washed. We can just throw them away, and we have some new ones."
Residents of all cities can contribute to the CEB by writing letters, sending care packages, helping plan events or donating money. For more information on how you can help, please contact current committee president, Dorothy Owen, at (562) 926-1092 or (714) 801-7965, and/or Chuck Sooter at (562) 860-8174.