There is much more to Independence Day celebrations on the hill than fireworks, barbecues and red, white and blue clothing. 

This year marks the 25th performance at Rolling Hills Covenant Church of “One Nation Under God,” a musical program and live-model recreation of six U.S. Marines raising the flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

Dr. David Halverson directs an adult and children's choir and will weave poignant tributes throughout the program. It's become a must-attend event for many in the community.

The program includes tributes to local law enforcement officers, fire fighters, medical workers and others who have dedicated their livelihoods to the service of our country. 

Drum rolls, salutes and flags take on higher meaning as former and active military personal stand to be recognized for their respective branches of service. By the time family members who have lost a loved one to war stand, emotions are running high, but proud. 

Special guest veteran, 95-year old Pastor Phillip Luttio, who joined the military as an underage infantry soldier who wanted to deploy with his buddies instead of staying stateside, will attend the ceremony with family and friends.

During World War II at Iwo Jima, Luttio stepped on a land mind which blew him into 20 feet into the air, according to his son Mark.

The army flew Luttio’s tattered body to Guan where, after six months of treatment, the attending doctor told him he needed to find out what God was saving him for because he should have been dead. 

After the war, Luttio became a missionary to Japan for 40 years because he said he felt God led him to serve that country with a Bible, not bullets. Through the help of his faith, Luttio said his former enemies were transformed into the greatest of friends. 

An honor guard tradition was started by Ralph Schmoller, who organizes and leads a group of former veterans through the aisles of the church.

Schmoller said the honor guard—comprised of about ten church members—is not about the group of participants. Instead it’s about the fallen veteran. 

“We will pass in review to the cadence of a single drum, with triangular folded coffin flags,” said Schmoller, a former Navy and Air force officer who worked with various intelligence agencies during his military career in the ‘60s. “The flags are carried in a 13-fold triangle in a case. It’s all commemorative.” 

Retired marine Michael Jacobs, a missionary who aids the chaplain at the Quantico Marine Corp Air Facility in Virginia, has returned each year for more than a decade to participate in "One Nation Under God."

Jacobs has invited Marines from the Pasadena 23rd Marines unit, which is actually headquartered in New Orleans, to present the colors.

This year, due to new Marine corp policies, Jacobs said Marines no longer carry weapons into churches but will present the colors during the ceremony just the same. 

“I come back every year because I sense I owe it to those who have gone before us, and who are currently serving,” said Jacobs whose wife Velma also serves at the Quantico Marine base.

“The presentation means a lot to me as a retired Marine," said Jacobs. "This is my way of giving back to our military men and women.”

Want to go?

Sunday, June 30 at 6 p.m.

Free admission

Rolling Hills Covenant Church

2222 Palos Verdes Drive North

Rolling Hills Estates, CA 



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