Los Angeles Daily News VHC Article 2015
by Dennis McCarthy
Veterans Holiday Celebration at West Los Angeles VA delivers honor, gratitude
The VIPs will begin arriving around noon on Sunday, taking their place with the other guests of honor on the chow line.
This is their day to be recognized and applauded because they have done something so few people in this country are willing to do: suspend their daily lives for a few years or more to wear the military uniform of this nation.read more
Only 7.3 percent of all living American adults have served in the military at some point in their lives, according to Department of Veterans Affairs statistics. And as of Jan. 31 this year, 1.4 million men and women were serving in the U.S. Armed Forces — about 0.4 percent of the population
So that makes them special, but from what I hear from the volunteers working the 23rd annual Veterans Holiday Celebration at the West Los Angeles VA, that’s not how they feel.
“It always amazes me how humble and thankful they are, as if what they did was just something ordinary,” says Gregg Sanders, who has been volunteering at the event for 11 years.
“If it was ordinary, something everybody does, we’d all be vets. What they did was extraordinary, and we want them to know that.”
The holiday celebration began on Christmas Eve 1992 with a couple of turkeys and some guitars for entertainment. Half a dozen members of the local chapter of MDI — Mentor, Discover, Inspire — an international men’s organization, showed up unannounced to visit veterans in the VA hospital.
They had heard that most of the guys had no one visiting them, and that Christmas Eve dinner was a ham and cheese sandwich they ate in bed.
“That wasn’t right,” says Greg Telle, chairman of the board of the Veterans Holiday Celebration, a nonprofit corporation. “These men deserved so much better than that.
“We served about 30 hospitalized vets hot turkey dinners and sang Christmas songs with them that first year, and it just took off from there. This year we’re expecting 3,500 to 4,000 veterans and their families to attend the celebration.
“We’ll have 40 volunteers serving them dinner, and later Jim Belushi, one of our members, and his Sacred Hearts Band will be performing.”
They’re keeping their fingers crossed there will be more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans this year, says Barry Gershenson, who has worked the event for 18 years.
“Most of them think of the older guys as veterans — the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam guys. They look at themselves as military or active military.
“We want them to join us with their families and see it doesn’t matter when you served, you’re a veteran.”
So, if you go Sunday, and the public is certainly invited, this is what you will see. Plenty of gratitude and camaraderie, says Telle, who has worked the event for 20 years.
“Vets from each era will sit together eating and talking about their years in the service. Pretty soon, families with kids will start walking up and thanking them, and they’ll be surprised, especially the Nam guys.
“I’ve seen a lot of these guys cry, telling those kids it’s the first time anybody thanked them for their service. The others will appear almost embarrassed because they don’t expect praise for what they did.”
Because they don’t see themselves as special, just ordinary. But try to imagine this. What if they hadn’t been there to put on the uniform when we needed them?
So if you want to meet some real VIPs, stop by the holiday celebration Sunday afternoon to say thank you and shake some hands.
The Veterans Holiday Celebration begins at noon this Sundayon the West L.A. VA campus at 11301 Wilshire Blvd. It will be held in parking lot 29, adjacent to Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: 23rd annual Veterans Holiday Celebration
When: noon Sunday, Dec. 6
Where: West Los Angeles VA, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., in parking lot 29, adjacent to Jackie Robinson Stadium
By DENNIS MCCARTHY | DMcCarthy@SCNG.com |
PUBLISHED: December 3, 2015 at 6:13 pm | UPDATED: August 28, 2017 at 6:32 am
Jim Belushi (“K-9”) and Dan Aykroyd (“The Blues Brothers”) came out to cheer and sing for veterans at their 22nd Annual Veterans Holiday Celebration on Sunday at the West Los Angeles VA Campus for 3500 veterans, service members and their families. The theme was “Honoring America’s Heroes”, and 800 volunteers supported this heroes’ celebration.
From the holiday banquet hall to “The Blues Brothers” movie car on display, entertainment tent, and sponsor tables, we were fortunate to meet veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and hear their brave stories. Volunteers served a full turkey dinner, while Carolers sang. Supercuts also gave out free haircuts, and you can see all the action in our 20 PHOTOS in this story. read more
Jami Bess (Jim Belushi’s daughter) sang before the headliners hit center stage, while Jim stood in the crowds beaming with pride. Jami gave heartfelt thanks to veterans on stage saying, “Thank you for having me. I just want to serve you guys the way you served us. Thank you so much for all your work.”
Legendary Producer Actor/Writer/Producer Rob Reiner (“All in the Family” introduced the entertainment headliners (Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd), and then joined this dynamic duo as they sang classic tunes such as “Mustang Sallie.” After this song, Dan Aykroyd shared sincere appreciation, “Thank you ladies and gentleman. It’s an honor to be here. Thank you so much.”
Many thanks to the exciting entertainment line-up introduced by the Master of Ceremonies Scott Shimamoto, including:
• National Anthem: Ms. Holiday Hadley
• Keynote Speaker: Mr. Curly Elliot (Pearl Harbor Survivor)
• Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts Band
• Special performances by Bernie Dressel (Brian Setzer Orchestra), Carl Verheyen (Supertramp) and Stuart Hamm (renown bass player)
• Laker Girls and Kings Ice Crew roaming the grounds
• Danny D and The Dents
• Jami Bess (Singer/Songwriter and Jim Belushi’s daughter)
• New Directions Choir
• Blues Brothers movie car on display (Paul Casey Productions who gave out Blues Brothers 2000 pins)
What was even more inspiring was to see veterans and service members reunite with their fellow comrades and their families. We were honored to eat dinner with Alan Peye and Glen Anthony (who served in Afghanistan). We also met Pete Howenstein (WWII Survivor, Battle of the Bulge in Normandy) and Jim Sivazlian (Vietnam veteran). To give thanks, we honored Jim Sivazlian with one of our Hero Goody Award Tags from the Goody Awards.
Members of the Naval Sea Cadets Corp were also there doing a formation. In addition, the USC Veterans Association of young veterans (led by their President Mike Johnson), who mostly served in Afghanistan and Iraq, were there as volunteers.
Towards the end, many veterans danced in front of the stage, which was a fun way to close this heroes celebration. Many thanks to the 800 volunteers who made this event a huge success and big cheers to all the veterans. Thank you for your service!
© Liz H Kelly, National Digital Entertainment Columnist and Goody Awards Founder