San Benito Lifestyle

Huge crowd honors veterans in downtown Hollister

Vets, families, local dignitaries honor those who have served their country

A standing-room-only crowd in the refurbished Veteran's Memorial Building in downtown Hollister paid solemn tribute on Veterans Day to the men and women who have put country before self by serving in the armed forces.

The Rancho-Maze Band played patriotic songs as the crowd filed in and filled up the building, prior to students from Sacred Heart School doing a choreographed performance with American flags to the song "Proud to Be an American." 

Representatives of local veterans groups marveled at the size of the crowd, which many called the largest they'd seen for local a Veterans Day ceremony. After a moment of silence and prayer in honor of veterans, members of the Chapter 69 American Legion Riders' honor guard placed a bayonette, boots, helmet and dog tags in front of the stage to honor the memory of fallen soldiers. 

A letter from Salinas native Everett Alvarez Jr., the first American pilot downed and held as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War, noted that "veterans share a common bond; a duty to country and to each other."

A series of speakers thanked veterans and their families all they have sacrificed for the country. Hollister Police Chief David Westrick said, "I can't think of anything better than thanking a veteran for everything. I dislike the words 'thank you for your service' because it doesn't cover enough."

He encouraged everyone in the crowd to personally thank a veteran after the ceremony and also reminded the crowd that the Hollister Gives Back organization is looking to continue its efforts to send holiday cards to injured and active duty military members this year. Last year, approximately 21,000 cards were sent in six weeks.

Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said he had "never seen this many people in this building. That goes to show how much we support our veterans." He said that "there is nothing more honorable than serving in the military" and that not serving "is the only regret I have." Velasquez noted how banners throughout downtown Hollister have the names of active duty military personnel and that those banners will remain on lamp posts until those servicemen and women come home. He also encouraged local businesses to hire veterans because "they deserve that."

County Supervisor Jerry Muenzer said the common theme in Veterans Day speeches is how we all owe those who have served "a debt of gratitude" and that those in attendance were doing just that.

A table for six was symbollically set up at the front of the Vet's Hall, with a place setting for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and prisoners of war/missing in action personnel. A full POW/MIA ceremony was planned at a Veteran's Day dinner at the Elks Lodge on Tuesday.

Miss California Marina Inserra, who traveled from San Diego to Hollister for the ceremony, said she was "overwhelmed by the amount of support I see in this town" for veterans. A self-described "military brat" whose father served in the Marines, Inserra said she is "so appreciative of the men and women that serve our country and their families."

The names of deceased local veterans whose names are inscribed on memorial tiles in the courtyard of the Veteran's Memorial Building were read as the crowd stood silently, a bell ringing with each name called. The VFW Honor Guard then paid tribute from just outside the hall by firing a rifle three times before the playing of "Taps" on a bugle.

The annual downtown Veterans' Day Parade made its way down San Benito Street at 1:30 p.m.

Adam Breen

Adam Breen has been a San Benito County resident since 1980 and graduated from Sacred Heart School and San Benito High School before earning a bachelor's degree from California State University, Fresno. A father of two sons, Adam has taught newspaper, English and yearbook at SBHS for the past decade, after six years as a magazine editor for Santa Clara University. He previously was editor of the Hollister Free Lance and content director for BenitoLink.