We have some 22,000 veterans living in our county — almost 10 percent of the population, which is a higher average than most California counties can claim. Yet most of us don’t know who these men and women are, nor how much they may have sacrificed for us.
If you want an inkling of that service and sacrifice, take in Friday’s Veteran Recognition Luncheon at Mitchell Park at noon in San Luis Obispo.
State Sen. Sam Blakeslee — along with representatives of 20 veteran organizations — has been organizing the event for the past four years as a way to collectively thank those who have heeded the call to serve their country.
“The lunch recognizes the heroes among us, those who ask for nothing but deserve everything,” Blakeslee said.
On the cusp of Memorial Day 2011, he adds that, “Yes, we have an annual day for the fallen, but we need to gather and know their stories of valor, their lives, their loss. Over the years, I’ve been deeply moved by their stories — from Iwo Jima to Fallujah — it doesn’t matter which war, they’re all inspiring.
“These people go back to their lives after their service and live among us, unknown and unrecognized for their valor. It’s powerful to hear their stories, tears well up; it’s just a very powerful day. It helps me understand why our nation is so great — because people have stood up and paid the price for the love of their country.”
Twenty-five veterans will be recognized while you munch on a barbecue prepared by the San Luis Obispo Lions Club. Dana Cummings, a Marine veteran who lost a leg in a traffic accident and subsequently founded AmpSurf, an organization that helps people with disabilities — with an emphasis on disabled vets — will be honored as Veteran of the Year.
The San Luis Obispo resident says AmpSurf’s “goal is to help people see their abilities and define themselves by what they can do, not by what they can’t do.” He can be reached at email@example.com.
In addition to recognizing those who have served, the event will help keep Ride-On’s Veterans Express rolling.
The $7 you pay for lunch will go toward keeping the shuttle solvent, providing transportation for county vets to Santa Maria where they can catch transportation to the Los Angeles Vets Hospital.
According to Mark Shaffer, Ride-On’s executive director, the express serves an average of 140 riders a month, or 1,680 riders last year. The cost to keep the program financially afloat is about $35,000 a year. And although the express came close to shutting its doors a year ago, two generous donations will keep it going through next year. That doesn’t mean the express has hit easy street, however.
“We’ll have a couple of fundraising concerts this summer,” Shaffer said. “And we’ll be selling veterans wristbands next November.”
In the interim, donations may be made to Veterans Express, c/o Ride-On, 3620 Sacramento Dr., Suite 201, SLO 93401; or to Veterans Recognition Luncheon c/o American Legion Post 66, 1661 Mill St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.
On a broader note, veteran health issues were addressed at the national level last week when the Government Accountability Office issued a report critical of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, saying the two agencies have failed to “streamline services and share records, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars.”
In a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee meeting this week, Sen. Patty Murray, committee chair, told representatives of DOD and VA: “When we send service members into harm’s way, it’s our non-negotiable duty to take care of them when they return home.” Murray said.
Those marching orders may take effect here this summer or fall, Shaffer said, as Ride-On works with the VA in providing more vehicles and volunteer drivers for the Veterans Express.
We’ll see how that progresses.
More immediately, join me Friday for a barbecue at Mitchell Park while giving our vets thanks and helping the Veterans Express keep on rolling. It will feed your body, mind and soul.
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.