Once Labor Day and the Antelope Valley Fair are behind us, momentum builds toward events that culminate around Veterans Day, marked as Nov. 11. We have a history of 100 years of Nov. 11 veterans observances, the holiday that initially was known as Armistice Day, to commemorate the end of World War I, the Great War, that led to so many of the other wars, big and little, hot and cold, that have followed and shaped our history up to the present moment.
We have a trio of 10-year anniversaries coming up, soon after Labor Day. Some of the events involve servicemen and women, veterans and their supporters, wearing finery, gowns, mess dress and dashing attire. There is the Air Force Ball on Sept. 15 at Edwards Air Force Base, and on Nov. 2, the Veterans Military Ball at the Hellenic Center. Other events are commemorations.
Next month, the military service support group Vets4Veterans begins a series of events to mark its 10th anniversary. Following that, there will be the 10th Anniversary of the Antelope Valley Mobile Vietnam Memorial and soon after that, the 10th year of operations for the William J. “Pete” Knight Veterans Home operated by the California Department of Veterans.
As the Veterans Day holiday period is marked, this year, the “AV Wall” will mark 10 years of serving the Antelope Valley and a pretty big batch of Southern California Communities. The theme for this year’s display of the AV Wall at Marie Kerr Park in Palmdale, Nov. 7-12, will be “Tied To Our Heart.”
The thousands of visitors coming will have the opportunity to tie decorations to the fence that will be a tribute to the military’s Vietnam Service Medal, that aggregate of yellow and red stripes that means the wearer served and probably suffered, in one of America’s longest and most debated wars.
Vietnam War veterans will make visits to classrooms. Air Force Jr. ROTC students from Highland High School will present guards of honor. Thousands of visitors will give and take, meaning from the 58,320 names of our American dead from the Vietnam War.
“There are only four walls of this kind in the United States, and one of them is ours growing out of a grass roots, community effort,” Mike Bertell, president of the AV Wall Committee, and a Vietnam War infantry vet said.
Sometimes little things become bigger. This is called sustainability. Ten years is the beginning of sustainability.
Last year was a big one for the very local Vets4Veterans nonprofit support group. The group realized its goal of opening a home that could house needy veterans in transition to civilian life and endeavors. It took almost a decade, but they did it.
Vets4Veterans was a small group, that started out in group therapy, for veterans who were learning how to live better with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder they picked up as draftees fighting in the Vietnam War a half-century ago. When they started their efforts to “live better by doing good,” that most unloved of wars was only 40 years in their rearview mirrors.
Persistent symptoms of PTSD include startle reflexes, hyper-vigilance, bouts of paranoia, nightmares, night sweats and extreme distrust of authority and institutions. Feels pretty good, really. No, not really. PTSD feels just awful. But one of the ways to cope, LMFT Gerry Rice advised, was to take positive action for something they believed in.
So, the small bunch of PTSD survivors found a name for their group, Vets4Veterans, printed up some T-shirts and held a car show in the parking lot of the VA Vet Center, the counseling center where they came up with the idea.
The car show was an unexpected hit and they raised a few thousand dollars. That was 10 years ago.
Since that first car show, the little group that believed they could has succeeded in raising tens of thousands of dollars for veteran scholarships at Antelope Valley College. They have disbursed emergency grants to pay utility bills, buy groceries and gas and generally given a hand-up to their brother and sister vets, not a hand-out.
Next month is their 10th Anniversary Vets4Veterans Car and Motorcycle Show and Poker Run, held at Poncitlan Square, for free, on Sept. 15. A lot of classic street rods, vintage motorcycles, and family fun will be there. Vietnam War combat veteran Tom Hilzendeger, who founded the group with his buddies, was named “Veteran of the Year” in Sacramento by state Sen. Scott Wilk. Hilzendeger, of the storied 1st Cav Division, tears up at the generosity of others.
It looks like the Vets4Veterans treasury is healthy in the six figures, with that money slated for its intended purposes — sustaining the Operation Restart house, veterans scholarships and emergency grants.
The other area asset that marks a 10th anniversary this year is the William J. “Pete” Knight Veterans Home, comfortable assisted living for veterans who gave their time in service.
Home to somewhere between 60 and 90 veterans (and sometimes their spouses), the “Pete” Knight Home was dedicated on Nov. 20, 2009 — just about a week after the AV Wall was dedicated. It was a joint federal, state and community labor of love.
The day it dedicated was a big day, with many dignitaries, including then-Rep. Steve Knight, the son of the X-15 astronaut test pilot and Antelope Valley war hero for whom the Veterans Home was named.
William J. “Pete” Knight, Col. Ret. USAF, held the flight speed record for “fastest man alive” in the X-15 rocket test plane, a record that stands today. We lost Pete Knight in 2004, after a lifetime of service, including 253 aerial combat missions in Vietnam. The opening that day was most gratifying to retired Navy Capt. Tom Craft, who has also passed on.
Craft, working with Pete Knight, and former lawmaker George Runner, waged a tireless fight with Sacramento politicians to get the Veterans Home established, and now it is part of our Antelope Valley’s legacy of honoring veterans.