(Photos by: Norberto Santana Jr./Voice of OC)

Gov. Jerry Brown came to Orange County this week, joining Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a host of Republican elected officials and labor leaders to celebrate the passage of Quirk-Silva’s legislation paving the way for a veterans’ cemetery at the Great Park in Irvine.

For many Orange County veterans standing in Tuesday’s heat near the airstrips of what used to be the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, the event was about stepping out of the shadows and pressing politicians to secure a final resting place for veterans where their families can mourn without having to travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties.

“If you sit back and don’t do anything, we watch nothing happen,” said Jim Torres, a Sr. Vice Commander with California-based Disabled American Veterans.

Jim Torres speaks with Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva and Gov. Brown.

Torres said he and other veterans are tired of having to drive the widows of fallen soldiers all the way to distant counties. They deserve a place where they can spend time with the graves of the loved ones they lost, he said.

Orange County supervisors John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson have called Quirk-Silva’s efforts on behalf of the cemetery an election year stunt, saying there is no federal allocation to create a cemetery.

Quirk-Silva dismissed such criticism.

“Politics means to create action,” Quirk-Silva said at the event. “I’m proud of what we’ve created together.”

Many Republican elected officials on Tuesday agreed with the sentiment that despite the political overtones, Orange County has actually accomplished something real for veterans.

“This is a good example of a Republican council majority working with a Democratic legislature in Sacramento and a Democratic governor came together,” said Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway.

Irvine city council members voted unanimously in July to designate a 125-acre piece of city land adjacent to the Great Park for the cemetery. The Great Park and the proposed cemetery are next to the former El Toro Marine base.

Quirk-Silva, who chairs the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee, said her proposal authorizes the state Veteran Affairs Department to work with the Orange County Board of Supervisors and city councils to build an Orange County veterans cemetery owned and operated by the state.

Santa Ana LULAC Council#147 President Zeke Hernandez commended Quirk-Silva “for answering the call to duty to author Assembly Bill 1453 and Governor Brown to sign his approval for the bill.”

Zeke Hernandez speaks with Gov. Brown.

“With this, a major part of Orange County’s Veterans Memorial Park Committee’s mission is completed, but the work continues for additional cemetery development and design funding, and committed ancillary services for veterans and their families,” said Hernandez, who serves as Vice Chairman of the OCVMPC, and is a Vietnam-era Army veteran, with two brothers who fought in Vietnam.

The biggest hurdle still facing efforts to create a veterans cemetery is securing federal funding, something that many – such as Moorlach and Nelson – have said will be extremely difficult to accomplish.

Here are some more photos from the event:

Gov. Brown speaks alongside Irvine City Council members Jeff Lalloway and Christina Shea.

Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva spoke with two veterans after the event.

Gov. Brown talks with Orange County Employees Association Assistant General Manager Jennifer Muir.

Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva and Gov. Brown caucus just before he left the event.

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You can reach Norberto Santana Jr. at nsantana@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @NorbertoSantana.

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