By Sgt. Heather Golden, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms
One local retiree stood out among the other 680,000 residents of the 65th Assembly District of the California Legislative Assembly when he was recognized as the area’s Veteran of the Year 2012 June 29, during a ceremony at the Officers’ Club.
Retired Col. Philip C. Cisneros was selected as one of 80 veterans, for each of the state’s districts, to receive the annual honor. The 65th District is one of the largest and most densely populated in California. These 80 veterans were selected out of the 38 million people who call California home.
Assemblyman Paul Cook nominated Cisneros, and traveled to the Combat Center to personally present him with the award. He said Cisneros was his top choice for his military accomplishments, combat action and continued work within the local military retiree community.
“This is a real honor for me,” Cook said. “I do a lot of events, but this one is very gratifying, to pay homage to a Marine Corps icon and an icon in the community.”
The assemblyman, also a retired Marine colonel, met Cisneros, who saw combat in both Vietnam and Korea, when they were both active duty officers at Quantico more than 40 years ago.
“Here is someone indicative of a veteran,” he said. “He is a veteran with a capital ‘V.’ He’s a symbol of the sort of great veterans we have in our midst. He’s truly an icon and historical figure. He should be a role model to so many people.”
Cook then cited Cisneros’ drive to succeed as a deciding factor and reminded the small gathering present that Cisneros grew up and entered the Marine Corps during a time that was ripe with racial discrimination.
“Here’s somebody who came from the ghetto,” Cook said. “It was in a racist environment against Hispanics and Latinos. Here’s someone who overcame all that. Talk about an inspiration to anybody of diversity. This is someone who came up and beat the odds.”
Of the small handful of men and women invited by Cisneros who attended the lunch, only two were non-military. He said for this occasion he wanted to be surrounded by those who had also devoted their lives in service to their country.
“I wanted to have other veterans here so I could recognize what they had done, and sort of share with them the meaning of this award,” he said.
Cisneros, who said he was “obviously honored” and “overwhelmed,” also said he holds a less lauded view of his life’s work. He, like many veterans put in the spotlight before him, said he only did what he feels is right, no more and no less.
“What the heck did I do to deserve it?,” Cisneros said, referring to his current work as the volunteer coordinator with the base’s Retiree Activities Office. “I do things, but I do them because I want to. I get something personal out of it. It keeps you busy. It keeps you alive. And I’m older than dirt, so I have to keep busy.”
The group of five-to-six volunteers, including Cisneros, sponsors annual Memorial Day services and is responsible for the Retiree Marine Corps Birthday Ball every year.
“He doesn’t just retire and sit by the pool,” Cook joked with those gathered. “I’m pretty sure he’s been on active duty for 75 years.”