The USS Anchorage during LA Fleet Week. Photo by Michael Hjelmstad/The American Legion

Legionnaires attend LA Fleet Week

Bright blue skies and squelching heat Labor Day weekend greeted servicemembers to the second annual LA Fleet Week at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif. The U.S. Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and the Canadian Navy hosted events and exhibits at the Los Angeles World Cruise Center near the historic Battleship Iowa. Los Angeles is now one of the many cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and New York, who host Fleet Week celebrations.

The military extended a warm welcome to Los Angeles by providing public tours of five ships, showcasing military equipment, hosting a question-and-answer session, and having photos ops with servicemembers. The patriotic air was jovial and celebratory.

“I think it is an amazing community outreach,” said Jack Clayton, who lives in Bakersfield, Calif., but is a member of American Legion Post 659 in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is originally from. “I think it’s very important that young people see the various opportunities that are available.”

Clayton, who is involved with the upkeep and restoration of the Battleship Iowa, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He expressed how impressed he is with the service of people today. “All of the military personnel in this day and age are volunteers, here because they want to be. It overwhelms me. Especially if they stop me and they see my Legion hat and they say ‘Thank you for your service,’ and it's extended right back at ‘em.”

One of the gems of Fleet Week this year was the USS Anchorage. Clayton was part of a group that traveled by bus to San Diego and voyaged back on the Anchorage for Fleet Week. “We love Fleet Week, and we have been privileged each year to be able to secure passage on one of the vessels from San Diego up to San Pedro,” Clayton said. The USS Anchorage, named after the city in Alaska, is the largest of the six military vessels that participated in this year’s LA Fleet Week.

On one of the tours of the Anchorage, Pfc. Charlie Ricco and Pfc. Travis Perry displayed the light armored vehicle they operate as part of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division. Ricco’s father was a Navy Seabee and they are both members of American Legion Post 143 in Fairfield, Conn. These Marines are experts in their jobs and responsible for massive equipment and accountable to the Marines around them.

Also stationed on the Anchorage was Marine Cpl. Emilio Mondragon, a Los Angeles native, Legionnaire and an administrative specialist with the 11th MEU. He likes that his hometown was able to interact with and get to know the military.

“It’s kind of great that we're here to show them what the Navy and Marine Corps team has to offer, and give them the opportunity to come on ship and look at all the different exhibits and different weapons systems that we have, and they get an understanding that we're here and we're thankful for their support,” Mondragon said.

Mondragon joined The American Legion during Fleet Week. He was part of a crew that went beyond their duty to help fellow Marine Martha Huff tour the ship. Huff, a 100 percent disabled veteran, is a junior past District 29 commander and Richard M. Nixon Post 679 1st vice commander in Yorba Linda, Calif. Post 679 participates in a program that adopted Mondragon’s unit.

The post supports the unit in various ways such as providing care packages to the families while the servicemembers are deployed, and greeting the unit when they return from deployment. Because of this affiliation, several Post 679 members attending Fleet Week got a special tour of the USS Dewey and the USS Anchorage. At the end of the tour, Post 679 Commander Clay Baxter invited the servicemembers to join the post.

The USS Anchorage recently returned from deployment to Hawaii, the Philippines, Malaysia, Africa, Singapore and China with many training missions and liberty ports like the one in Los Angeles. Much like Fleet Week, the servicemembers got to meet people from the countries and ports they visited.

“We had marine expeditionary personnel from all the embassies, the air combat element and the command personnel interacting with the different troops from the different nations,” Mondragon said.

The community outreach during Fleet Week goes beyond San Pedro. The servicemembers attended local attractions like Disney’s Universal Studios and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game.

The Navy-Marine Corps team will be on display again at San Diego Fleet Week, Sept. 10-15, where Marines and sailors will kick off the event with the Sea and Air Parade beginning the five days of ship tours, static displays, military band performances and more. The Marine Corps largest airshow in the country is Sept. 23-25 in San Diego at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Airshow.