Central Coast veterans of all ages were honored for their service Friday in a casual gathering organized by local assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, with San Luis Obispo mayor Dave Romero also in attendance.
Spotlighted at the gathering was San Luis Obispo native Lance Iunker, 19, who was the youngest veteran honored at a May 7 State Assembly meeting in Sacramento. Blakeslee wanted a chance to honor Iunker, and other local veterans, in their own community.
Not only veterans turned out for the event; there were soldiers from Camp Roberts as well as members of the California Highway Patrol, San Luis Obispo Police Department, local paramedics and bomb squad.
Iunker joined the army after graduating from San Luis Obispo High School in 2006. He left for basic training four weeks after graduation day and was deployed to Iraq in January of 2007. He served in an airborne infantry unit for nine months before being seriously injured and is now continuing his recovery process with the Wounded Warriors program in Augusta, Georgia.
After a gun battle with insurgents, Iunker’s group was taking some 17 detainees back to their base when they lost control of the truck. It went off of a 50-foot overpass and landed upside down, leaving many dead and several, including Iunker, critically injured.
“He is a living embodiment of traditions of American men and women who demonstrated the highest standards of loyalty and courage,” Blakeslee said. “They serve their country in perilous times and dangerous places.”
When Iunker spoke, he was humble and honored to be in the presence of so many distinguished veterans.
“You guys are the reason I joined the military,” he said to the veterans. “I’ve always looked up to you guys and you are my heroes.”
Iunker credits his faith for helping him through his injury and recovery, and his dedication led his fellow soldiers in Iraq to call him “Preach,” his pastor said.
He proved his age when he referred to a Vietnam veteran he spoke to in Sacramento as “an old guy,” which prompted laughter from the crowd.
However, Blakeslee called him “an old soul,” wise beyond his years.
Iunker used his time to thank the community for supporting him, including the bomb squad. “When I was escorted back to my house the first time I was here they cleared the route for me so I knew I was safe,” he said.