Group honors six area veterans

By KAREN HIBDON | Ventura County (Calif.) Star | Published: February 12, 2014

Six area veterans were saluted recently during the first Ricky Burrus Veterans’ Memorial Ride.

Forty motorcyclists participated in Saturday’s tribute sponsored by Rolling Thunder Inc., Chapter 1 California, and named for Burrus, who died in April. A U.S. Coast Guard veteran, he was a tireless worker for the chapter and veterans in general, despite being on a heart transplant list.

Burrus promoted chapter projects at the California Veterans Home in east Ventura and the Ventura County Stand Down for homeless vets. He walked the walk, Rolling Thunder President Joe Galante said.

“After a long discussion about helping veterans, he would poignantly say, ‘That’s all just great, but what have we done to help veterans today?’ ”

Rolling Thunder is a veterans service organization with a mission to bring full accountability for prisoners of war and service members missing in action during all wars and to provide support for veterans and their families.

Saturday’s entourage wound its way from the Thousand Oaks Elks Lodge to veterans’ memorial sites in Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Ventura and Camarillo. A prayer and short history of the honored veteran were given at each site. Roses and flags were presented to family members.

The first stop was the Garden of Valor at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park, where Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony Melia is buried. Former captain of the Thousand Oaks High School football team, Melia was killed in action Jan. 27, 2007, when his expeditionary unit battled insurgents.

“He was everything ... I will never be able to explain what a great son he was,” Michael Melia told those gathered. “He was a leader. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his family and friends.”

Michael Melia and his wife joined the ride to the other sites. Vicky Melia sported her son’s camouflage motorcycle jacket.

The Conejo Valley Veterans Memorial at Conejo Creek Park North was site for the salute to Navy Lt. Frankie Toner, killed in action March 27, 2009, in Afghanistan.

Linda Toner, of Newbury Park, said her nephew was in the Merchant Marine Academy when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred, inspiring the former Westlake High running back to enlist in the Navy. He was sent to Afghanistan to help in the schools. While jogging with friends on a base in northern Afghanistan, he was shot and killed by an Afghan national army soldier.

Toner is credited with saving the life of one of his friends and received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star with Honor and Silver Star.

At the Simi Valley Veterans Plaza, William James Burt Jr., Army Tank Corps, was eulogized by his granddaughter Sherri Burt, of Camarillo.

Born in 1928 in Chicago, her grandfather enlisted in the Army and was trained to operate a Sherman tank. Finishing out the war in Germany, he was then sent to the U.S. Constabulary School in Bavaria, where he remained in the military police until his discharge. He died in 1999 in Glendale, but his name is listed on a concrete pylon at the Veterans Plaza.

Army Spc. Christopher Hill was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, 10 years ago. Adrienne and Kenneth Hill, of Moorpark, said their son’s death is still surrealistic.

Hill was killed when the vehicle he was traveling in was hit by an improvised explosive device. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

A husband and father, Hill had been honorably discharged and returned to civilian life. After 9/11, he re-enlisted.

“He did what he wanted to do,” his father said at the Moorpark Veterans Memorial.

Hill’s memory is kept alive at Moorpark’s Peach Hill School, where his mother, a third-grade teacher, helped cultivate the Peace Hill Garden. A patriotic program honoring veterans is held there annually.

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Daniel G. Moreno, who died in 2012, was eulogized at the Ventura County Veterans Memorial at the county government center by his daughter and son-in-law, Denise and Tony Biter.

Born in Piru, Moreno started his career in the Army Air Corps in 1943 in the administrative and legal services division. His career spanned the end of World War II to near the end of the Korean War and took him to France, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Japan.

While he never saw combat, Moreno received numerous medals and awards, including the Presidential Unit Citation, American Defense Service Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit citation and the United Nations Service Medal.

The final ride stop on Saturday was Conejo Mountain Memorial Park in Camarillo, where Burrus’ widow Patty, daughters Amber Bierig, of Camarillo, and Katie Burrus of San Diego, and their families, awaited the motorcyclists.

“I’m so glad he was in this group,” Katie Burrus said. “It changed his life, gave him something to live for, be strong for. He was extremely proud.”

There are plans to make the ride in Burrus’ name an annual event.


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