MONTEREY COUNTY — Henry Corda and Paul Guzman, both from Gonzales, were honored last Friday among the top 13 veterans during the Monterey County 2020 Veteran of the Year awards ceremony.
The Nov. 6 event took place at the county supervisors’ meeting chambers in Salinas, but it was also streamed live for the community to watch.
To be considered for the honor, a veteran must live in Monterey County and must work and volunteer for their community. Two awards were chosen from each county supervisor district, two at large, and this year a 13th was added. A Sam Farr Award was also presented to individuals who haven’t served or businesses that have helped veteran causes.
“It was a year for Gonzales,” said Chris Lopez, District 3 county supervisor. “When we went out looking for people to recognize, the hardest thing was that we find great people who say they don’t want to be recognized.”
Lopez acknowledged the need to get recognition to outstanding veterans, such as Corda and Guzman, and told the story of getting Corda’s family to help ensure he would be recognized.
Corda was an active duty Marine from 1942 to 1945, and has remained active with the Monterey County Veterans Day Parade in Salinas and with the Monterey County Swiss Rifle Club.
“I grew up in Gonzales, California … and the one time I left there, I spent four years in the Marine Corps,” Corda said.
Corda reflected on his military services, how he was part of a group of seven recruits who went to San Jose to sign up, and ended up at a boot camp in San Diego.
“I ended up with the 5th Marine Division,” Corda said. “We went on Iwo Jima and that was hell there. We split the island like we were supposed to … five days later, they raised the flag. The whole island, Marines jumped in the air, they were so happy to see that. But the fighting had just begun.”
He remembered how so many soldiers were ready to leave Iwo Jima after fighting to secure it for three weeks.
“I’m standing here before you, it’s 75 years since I’ve been on that island,” Corda said. “I’m 100 years old and I have a tough time getting around. … I thank you very much for inviting me out here.”
Guzman served in the Coast Guard and California National Guard. His volunteer work includes California Boy’s State Coordinator, helping with disabled veterans, Lion’s Club, the Monterey County United Veteran’s Council, Monterey County Fair, Gonzales Cemetery, Relay for Life and Blue Star Moms.
Guzman thanked everyone, from elected officials to his family and the community, for the honor. He said he was a neighbor of Corda and looked up to him when he was little. He then praised Corda’s service during his own time at the microphone.
“I am humbled and honored to have been nominated and awarded the 2020 Monterey County Veteran of the Year Award, along with my longtime neighbor, WWII U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Henry ‘Hank’ Corda, as well as, 11 other fellow veterans from various districts within Monterey County,” Guzman wrote afterward on his Facebook page.
Lopez thanked both veterans for not just their time in the service, but also their involvement in the community after serving.
“Thank you for all you did, not just in the service but when you came home,” Lopez said. “Gonzales is a shining spot during this crisis that we’re experiencing as a country. … We’re ahead of the curve on nearly everything, and it’s because people like you put in the time over the generations to make sure this city would be successful.”
Giving back to the community was a large aspect of why the two Gonzales honorees were chosen, Lopez said.
“It gives me great honor to put the spotlight on Gonzales and the incredible people who make it such a close-knit community and the contributions, not just to the Salinas Valley, but to our country,” he added. “You are the reason we get to stand here today, because of the freedom that you fought for.”