Vietnam veteran Wiley Hall walked over to six Orange County Sheriff Department deputies, giving each a fist bump and thanking each for their service.
Then the former Army captain – who served from 1967 to 1972 – grabbed a chair on the ball field and settled in for Wednesday’s Veterans Day service hosted by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9934 and the city of Dana Point. The event was one Hall wouldn’t have missed.
“I want to honor those I served with, but also all veterans who sacrificed themselves for the American people,” he said.
The post is the largest and most active among those in Orange County and the Inland Empire, serving more than 550 veterans in Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Aliso Viejo and San Clemente. Wednesday’s ceremony was the post’s 25th Veterans Day celebration.
The nearly two-hour event recognized veterans through 79 years of conflicts involving the U.S. military, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Typically held at the Veterans Memorial Plaza overlooking Strands Beach, this year’s event was at Del Obispo Park to better accommodate social distancing. Festivities began with a Marine Corps Color Guard from the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton – one of the post’s adopted units.
Marine Lt. Col.Frank Savarese, the unit’s commanding officer, gave the keynote address. Savarese, a Top Gun F-18 pilot, deployed twice in 2007 and 2009 and has flown 150 combat hours.
Savarese began with some background on the founding of Veterans Day first as Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I.
“Today, Americans celebrate Veterans Day to honor veterans for their call to service, love of country and selfless commitment to a higher cause,” he said.
He pointed out that 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of World War II, the 70th anniversary of the Korean War and the 30th anniversary of the Panama Invasion and the beginning of Desert Shield.
“As a history major, I was always fascinated by the servicemen and tales of indomitable spirit that would stop at nothing to achieve mission success,” he said. “Tales of Pappy Boyington, John Basilone, Chesty Puller and my personal favorite, even though he’s in the Air Force, Robin Olds.
“These are names that echo through eternity, veterans who selflessly dedicated their lives to a cause more noble than themselves. My father, a fellow Marine veteran of 28 years, was the reason I joined the Marine Corps,” Savarese said. “I watched as he led Marines to any clime and place. I marveled as I watched him interact with his Marines and thought, ‘Maybe someday I can do that.’
“These were the heroes I emulated growing up. These were the veterans I looked up to,” he said. “As I look into the crowd today, I see those same men and women I grew up emulating; I see the Greatest Generation. A generation of men and women who were called to a life of service and sacrifice.”
Savarese’s words resonated with many of the veterans assembled, including Harry Steelman, 73, who reflected on his own father’s service storming Omaha Beach on D-Day during World War II.
“It’s important to recall all of this,” said Steelman, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War. “All these veterans deserve our honor and respect.”
He also commended those in active duty now.
“Those serving today didn’t get drafted,” he said. “They stood up and said, ‘I need to serve my country.’”
Gary Heald, an Army Ranger leader in Vietnam, said he also felt being at the event was an important show of patriotism.
“I’m part of a brotherhood of guys,” he said, ” that did the job they had to do.”