UPDATE: Army Specialist Michael Mihalakis was inadvertently left out of the original story. When state Sen. Sam Blakeslee's office was researching fallen heroes for inclusion in Friday's veteran recognition luncheon, Mihalakis' name didn't appear in Blakeslee's district because his hometown was listed as Milpitas, where he grew up and his parents reside.
Mihalakis attended Cuesta College for a year prior to entering the service. Mihalakis was 18 when he flipped his Humvee on Dec. 26, 2003, at Baghdad International Airport. He subsequently died from his injuries.
ORIGINAL: Rather than honoring an individual as Veteran of the Year at this year’s fifth annual Veterans Recognition Luncheon, the event will recognize 34 members of the military who lived within state Sen. Sam Blakeslee’s 15th District and lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Friday luncheon, hosted by Blakeslee for the past four years, will be his last, as he has chosen not to seek re-election this year.
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“This year is the first time we’ll recognize a group, rather than an individual,” Blakeslee said from his office in Sacramento. “The Veteran of the Year is the ‘Fallen Military Hero.’ ”
Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, adjutant general of the California National Guard, will pay special tribute to those who lost their lives.
Baldwin leads the largest National Guard force in the United States, with some 23,000 individuals. He oversees the state Military Department, which includes the California Army and Air National Guard, State Military Reserve and California Youth Programs.
Of the 34 fallen veterans from Blakeslee’s district, seven had ties to, or lived in, San Luis Obispo County. They include:
Army Sgt. Robert T. Ayres III of Los Osos, who died Sept. 29, 2007, in Baghdad from wounds received when his unit was attacked.
Army Pfc. Michelangelo A. Mora of Arroyo Grande, who died May 14, 2004, in Najaf, Iraq, when his vehicle slid off the road and overturned.
Army 1st Lt. Osbaldo Orozco, a former Cal Poly student, who died April 25, 2003, when his vehicle rolled over while traversing rough terrain. His unit was a quick reaction force and was responding to enemy fire.
Army Sgt. Carl L. Sei-gart of Grover Beach, who died Feb. 14, 2007, when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle.
Three other county families who had loved ones die chose not to be recognized.
“Across America as our veterans have returned home, there have been no ticker-tape parades to speak of,” Blakeslee said. “We remember what happened after the end of the Vietnam War. It was at least a decade before those veterans were recognized.
“Everyone respects those who answered the nation’s call; we have to recognize all of the families for their sacrifice in losing a loved one. This year, it seemed right to honor the fallen.”
In addition to those who died in Iraq and Afghani-stan, numerous veterans’ groups nominated individual veterans from all branches of the military for recognition Friday.
Following the recognition, a barbecue, hosted by Richard Simons of R. Simons Construction, will be offered from noon to 2 p.m. at Mitchell Park, 1400 Osos St. in San Luis Obispo.
It’s free for those who will be honored and $10 for others, with proceeds going to the Vets Express.