“It’s our duty to remember every day of the year is a Veterans Day,” says 85-year-old Gunnery Sergeant William (Denny) Weisgerber, proud to be a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War and recipient of the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart.
“I’m ticked that Veterans Day is not a national holiday that all veterans get off,” he says before launching into the heart of his keynote speech November 11 at the 3 p.m. ceremony at Santa Clara’s Veterans Memorial in Central Park.
An estimated 350 – 400 people turned out. Some were veterans themselves. They stood and were applauded when the war they served during was named: WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War including Lebanon and Grenada, the Persian Gulf War, and the Global War on Terrorism.
Ninety-nine-year-old Milpitas resident May Alm was a WWII Army combat field nurse under U.S. Army General George S. Patton. She landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, in a uniform skirt in 1944.
“I joined because all the boys were leaving, and I happened to be a nurse. I followed General Patton all over Europe,” says Alm, who wore a French Medal of Honor and attended the ceremony with her daughter, Marie Alm, who served in the Army Nurse Corps from 1980-83.
Ninety-seven-year-old Los Gatos resident Dae D. Baird Jr. served aboard the S.S. William Bradford in the Merchant Marines during WWII. He joked that he was the first airmail baby because he was born on May 15, 1918–the day of the first formal U.S. air mail delivery.
“Eisenhower shook my hand,” recalls Baird. “I’m on six war memorials, in two museums and one library. I saved some people’s lives and had nine narrow escapes. I was able to stick with it. I have a medal from Russia for saving Russian lives.” Clearly a numbers man, Baird said that he has also written 162 personal stories for the Santa Clara Senior Center.
The ironic thing,” points out Baird’s stepdaughter Judy Noyes, “is that he’s a Christian Scientist but was a medic.”
Per tradition, flags were installed and flying: U.S., POW/MIA black flag, all military flags, California state and Santa Clara city flags. The Rev. William Schultz, Resurrection Lutheran Church, gave the opening invocation, praying that “the hope for peace among men is cherished by all our leaders.”
Brief remarks were made by former Director of Parks & Recreation and emcee Larry Wolfe, Mayor Jamie Matthews, and U.S. House of Representatives member Mike Honda, who spent his early childhood with his family in a Japanese American internment camp in Colorado. Speaking for the American Legion were commanders Les Schriber, District 13; Rick Gundo, Post 419; Sherry Henry, Post 564; and for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3982, Edward Kaminiski.
“The speakers were impressive,” says San Jose resident Rachelle DelBen, who came to honor her late father, Angelo DelBen, an Army veteran of the Korean War. “Tears came to my eyes when they played Taps at the end [of the ceremony].”
In the wake of the Veterans Day ceremonies, parades, and media attention, Weisgerber’s words yet linger.
“These men and women ready to give their lives must not be forgotten….We must honor both the living and the dead…. We must never forget. God bless the United States of America,” he concludes in a strong voice.
Each veteran, including Santa Clara resident John Figueira, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Korean War, took home a card of appreciation for their service, handmade by Girl Scout Troops 61148 and 61312, led by Jeannie Lyle.
“People need to understand that they’re in the greatest country in the world and freedom isn’t free,” Figueira reminds Americans.
The annual ceremony was organized by the Santa Clara Veterans Memorial Committee (www.santaclaraveteransmemorial.com).