The 500 block of Maple Street was filled with American flags, the flashing lights of trucks from the 5150 Dieselz Club and the roar of about two dozen motorcycles Wednesday as family, friends, church members, well-wishers and fellow veterans surprised Dave Rheinhart in a drive-by, caravan parade to celebrate his birthday.
Rheinhart, who turned 90 on April 7, said the parade was a "wonderful surprise."
Jim Jacobs (U.S. Army, 1972-75) served as the emcee for the parade as the trucks, cars and motorcycles stopped in the middle of the road momentarily to wish Rheinhart a happy birthday.
"We are losing so much history with these people. We need to attend these events and get that history and learn it so these youth don't have to go through it again. This guys lived and died in the mud and the blood. They really put their lives on the line," said Jacobs who left home at the age of 15.
Jacobs said that after working hard for everything he had, he has learned one thing: Freedom isn't free.
"It's never free," Jacobs said. "Somebody paid for it, and now we have to pay it forward."
As for his fellow veterans, Jacobs said, "We have to appreciate them while they are here."
Also joining the parade with her three children was Crystal Gracian, a third-generation Burgeis.
"We have a lot of people who died for us. We need to honor them," said Gracian.
"I always say hello, and show them respect. It's important that they see how proud we are of what they have done," said her daughter, Larrisa Gracian, 13.
Vince Woodcook, who is a retired Navy chief, said, "We are learning our legacies, and once they are gone, you are stuck learning about them from a book and not the actual person."
After playing "Anchors Away," the well-wishers all sang "Happy Birthday" to the veteran, who then saluted everyone and gave a short speech.
"We thank Dave for his service," said Jesus Gracian of the 5150 Dieselz Club who attended the parade remotely via his wife's cell phone.
Leslie Wanger, a proud mother of four military sons, also attended.
"I am so happy that we could do this," said Wanger.
Hailing from Indianapolis, Ind., Rheinhart was 18 years old when he came to California looking for a job. Not finding one readily, he enlisted in the Navy and served on a destroyer.
"I gave up and went to the enlistment center and talked to a Marine sergeant," Rheinhart said.
After arriving at the enlistment center, the sergeant was not there, and another enlistment officer asked him why he would want to join the Marines and sit in the barracks.
"I didn't want to do that so I chose the Navy so I could see the world," Rheinhart said.
Rheinhart served as a signal man flashing lights on the destroyer.
"Our job was to support troops, take out any convoys that we saw and rescue bodies out at sea. We were busy day and night and had very little sleep," Rheinhart said.
One of his most memorable experiences is the time he saved a man who was frozen to security lines.
"It was four in the morning, and we were about 150 miles south of Russia," Rheinhart said. "We were supporting small units in North Korea. He would probably would have died within 15 minutes. It was pitch black, but I managed to free his hands by going below, which was a very treacherous situation... it was 40 degrees below zero."
After pouring water on the poor man's hands, Rheinhart was able to release the frozen grip.
"If I would have let go of the ladder, we would have both slipped into the waters of Japan, which was filled with ice," he said.
Rheinhart said he lost his hearing on a night when he was sent to pick up a five truck convey. After approaching a turn in the road, they located the convoy, and fired five star shells to light them up.
Said Rheinhart, "Instead of lighting them up, we ended up backlighting ourselves."
One of his scariest memories was when the destroyer in front of him was hit and so was the destroyer behind him.
Rheinhart would later serve in the Marines as well.
If he could turn back the hands of time to when he was 18, would he do it all the same and enlist again?
"I absolutely would. I learned discipline, and I served with the very best," he said.
After being discharged, Rheinhart said, he realized the importance of getting an education and so he enrolled in college in San Diego. Later, he entered a career in aerospace, and then he served as a teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
He and his wife, Kathy, have lived in Tehachapi 33 years.
"This was all a very nice surprise," said Kathy.
The couple have two daughters, Shellie and Rebecca, and six grandchildren, June, Judah, Jason, Michael, Micah and Jesse.
If his grandchildren wanted to enlist in the military, Dave said he would tell them, "If you want to do something, by all means put your best foot forward and do it."