The 14th annual Veterans' Day Parade and ceremony brought hundreds of spectators to downtown Hollister on a sunny Wednesday to honor those who have served their country.
A massive red-and-while fire truck rumbled down San Benito Street at the end of the parade in which 38 entries -- including color guards, marching units, politicians, classic cars, service clubs, and more than a few military and American flags -- passed the assembled crowds lining the route.
Parade co-chair Frankie Gallagher, who has organized the event since 2007, declared it a rousing success. She said the first parade, in 2001, had 19 entries and each year the numbers continue to climb. She said it is a success because of the many dedicated volunteers.
“I thoroughly enjoy co-chairing the event and it’s an honor to give back to our veterans,” she said. “I do it because it’s a family legacy. My whole family are veterans. My dad and all seven of his brothers were veterans and I met my husband (Navy) at the VFW.”
The day’s festivities started off with 12 new banners being hoisted above downtown streets to honor active-duty military members who have connections to Hollister.
VFW Post 9242 Commander Bernie Ramirez, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, said the banner for each person will remain until he or she leaves the service. He also spoke about the parade’s grand marshal, Sgt. Brian Jergens.
“He was severely wounded in Afghanistan,” Ramirez said. “He lost both of his legs and suffered severe head trauma. We elected him to be our grand marshal for his service and sacrifice.”
Ramirez said he is committed to serving veterans because it’s his way of giving back to them and to the community.
“Also, the younger veterans need to know that we’re willing to help them and, hopefully, one day they will step up and take our place and take over,” he said. “It’s a great honor and I’m honored to be able to put up banners for our active duty military.”
At his side through just about every endeavor involving veterans is Ramirez's wife, Palmira, who is as committed as he is.
“I’m just very grateful and thankful today for all the service men and women. Whoever needs me, I’m there for them," Palmira said.
Gloria Delarosa, who works as a bartender in the VFW canteen, said the downtown banners are paid for through private donations.
“The banners were sponsored by a gentleman I used to work for who passed way in June,” she said. “His family decided to donate everything in the house to the VFW. The family wanted this in remembrance of their dad. So the money paid for these 12 banners, plus there’s more left over for other banners in the future.”
In addition to veterans and families, the event featured service organizations to help veterans. Dr. Doral Gonzales, a nurse practitioner and retired Army Lt. Colonel who served in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and Iraq in 2011 and 2012, works for the Veterans' Administration (VA) in Palo Alto. Her specialty is family care.
“The reason I work for the VA is because I am a veteran and I wanted to treat veterans as I want to be treated,” Gonzales said. “I tell veterans about their benefits that the VA can help them and their families with. So, it’s important for me to be here and get veterans into the VA system. I know we have problems, but we need to work together with Congress to alleviate them. All veterans need to write to Congress and let them know what their visit to the VA was like so we can help every veteran.”
Hector Torres served in the Army during Operation Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom. He retired in October after serving for 31 years. He described how he joined the Army because his brother had been killed in Vietnam at the age of 19.
“After he passed this became my life,” he said. “The Vietnam veterans are my heroes.”
Joe Love, former commander of American Legion Post 69, served in the Army’s A Company, 7th Engineer Battalion, 5th Infantry Division, from 1964 to 1971, and was in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. He said honoring veterans is important to him because of the time he spent in Vietnam.
“I thank God that he was watching over me to make sure that I came home so I can do what I’m doing now, and that helping veterans,” Love said. “Having a Veterans' Day event like this where we celebrate veterans is important because there are 58,000-plus Vietnam veterans that didn’t come home to be in one of these parades. It’s sad that we don’t celebrate enough for what the veterans do.”
When veterans signed on to serve, the government didn’t make any promises to them, Love said.
“It didn’t say they were going to stay home and serve; it didn’t say they would go to war, it just said you were going someplace to train to be the nation's greatest,” he said.
Of the 12 active duty military being honored with banners, two were the sons of Hollister Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo, who described his feelings on this patriotic day.
“I’ve been in uniform all of my adult life with 32 years of military service in the Marines and Army,” Del Campo said. “It was good for me in the 80s because it gave me the direction I needed. I didn’t intend for my kids to do it, but all they’ve seen is the military in their lives. All their uncles, great-uncles, cousins, their dad away on military service. When they turned 18, I guess that’s what they needed to do as young men.”
He said one son, Miguel, has been in the Marines for five years.
“He’s a fleet anti-terrorism Marine on a special team out of Rota, Spain,” Del Campo said. “He went to the raid on Benghazi and secured the area during the embassy attack. We went back to the fleet after that and is now with the 1st Marine Division. He’s coming home next week for the remainder of his tour.
The chief's other son, Marc, is an Army reservist in the 351st Civil Affairs Psychological Operations Unit, stationed in Mountain View.
“He’s also a sheriff’s explorer, attending college and working for Dish TV,” Del Campo said. “He’s got a full plate and he’s wearing a few uniforms right now and I’m glad that whatever it was that my family did to instill in these guys see a sense of duty and a sense of service to their community.”
During the official Veterans' Day ceremony inside the Veterans' Memorial Building, Ramirez spoke again of the younger veterans.
“We want you to know that we have your backs and you can come and talk to us and we will help in any way we can,” he said to several hundred people attending the ceremony.
U.S. Army Major General Matt Beevers, deputy general of the California National Guard, first recognized Sgt. Jergens, and asked him to stand so those around him could applaud his service. Jergens, a double amputee, slowly rose to face the audience for a warm and enthusiastic round of applause.
“He’s just one example of the embodiment of selfless service and sacrifice that every vet has made,” Beevers said of Jergens before giving his prepared speech: “On behalf of Gov. Brown and my boss, it’s a pleasure to be here today and have the opportunity to represent and recognize veterans across the state, and to get out of Sacramento and the politics to be here where our work matters the most."
Beevers continued, “It’s days like today that make me feel proud to wear the uniform. At the end of the day, over the last 14 years or so, we’ve seen a phenomena where less than one percent of our nation’s young men and women serve in our military. Also, what that does is diminish the military’s role across our society, which loses touch with the important work that veterans do and the important sacrifices they made.
“It’s important that we have days like this, not just today, but 365 days a year, and that’s why the veterans’ service organizations like the American Legion and others are important to make sure the elected and appointed leaders across the state understand and recognize the value and sacrifices that veterans have made. That’s the only way we will get the appropriate amount of money, not only for our military, but also for veterans. It’s absolutely important that we keep the pressure on our leaders.”
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