Celebrating Veterans’ Contributions to America

Third Annual Veterans Summer Celebration and Picnic
By Robin Kemker
Robin Kemker
Robin Kemker
August 15, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013

LOS ANGELES—Entering the National Veterans Home near the Brentwood area on Aug. 3, one could faintly hear some Bluegrass music in the distance performed by the Crazy Heart Blues Band. Not far away were half a dozen pallets stacked with 1,000 care packages for homeless Veterans and chairs intricately arranged for the Third Annual Veterans Summer Celebration and Picnic. 

The event, organized by the Old Veterans Guard, was to celebrate the contribution of the nation’s veterans. Local homeless veterans and others interested in veterans affairs attended. Veterans who had fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the cold/Middle-East wars were also represented. Over 100 people had come to participate in the event.

Ted Hayes, master of ceremonies, brought laughter and a strong voice, dressed in a flashy red Yankee-Doodle-Dandy outfit and sporting a gray beard. He also led the audience in singing “God Bless America.”

Lt. Col. Bob Friend, a 92-year-old Tuskegee Airman of World War II, and former head of Project Blue Book from 1958–1963 addressed the group. Many in the audience were probably hoping he would talk about flying saucers and UFOs. He discussed the dedication of the troops and their service to our country during WWII.

The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Robert “Buck” Rogers, a 92-year-old World War II, Korea, and Vietnam War veteran.

A moment of silence for our active duty troops, prisoners of war, those missing in action, and homeless veterans was led by Chaplain DOV Cohen. Los Angeles County has the largest veteran homeless population in the country. They number some 20,000 men and women. 

Several supporters of veterans in America also spoke: Dick Southern, Region 9 director, Vietnam Veterans of America; Bob Handy, chairman, Veterans United for Truth; Dean Gotham, director, California Northern District, Vietnam Veterans of America; and Dave Culmer, past chairman, Los Angeles Veterans Advisory Commission.

A letter from Army veteran and Olympic Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson was read by his daughter-in-law, U.S. Navy veteran Raquel Johnson. His heroism was demonstrated when he, along with Rosey Grier, tackled Sirhan Sirhan moments after Sirhan assassinated Robert F. Kennedy. Johnson was also instrumental in establishing the California Special Olympics.

Carlos Palomino—a WBC welterweight champion, aka “Never Down for the Count” Palomino—was a Vietnam-era veteran and U.S. Army boxing champion. Palomino recorded 15 knockouts in a highly distinguished professional boxing career. Palomino discussed his entry into Army boxing, which brought great laughs from everyone. Palomino had never boxed, but won his first fight against a trained boxer, despite having only a couple of weeks of training. Carlos continues to donate generous amounts of his personal time to anti-substance abuse, anti-gang, and educational programs for young people.

Los Angeles Laker and basketball legend James Worthy spoke next. Worthy was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. “Big Game James” was a seven-time NBA All-Star, three-time NBA champion, and the 1988 NBA Finals MVP. 

Worthy discussed how he had not been a soldier, but he had many friends from high school and family that were involved in the Vietnam War, some of whom died in action. He experienced the loss, but also the valor of those who fought to preserve freedom in America and the world.

Worthy established a foundation to support those in need, especially, “Working to honor our veterans and commemorate the legacy of profound service and sacrifice they have upheld in pursuit of a more perfect Union” among many other causes. Worthy still enjoys his sporting events as a news celebrity for the Lakers.

Mwamba Children’s Choir

A delightful event followed. The Mwamba Children’s Choir from Ghana performed various inline dances and songs for the event. They are on a world tour. The Choir is made up of 26 children ages 9–15 years. They are all orphans, traveling the world to raise money for a nonprofit that is supporting and schooling them for the future. At this time, they can sing in nine languages. The veterans were surprised when they sang in perfect English “My Country is Your Country.” 

The Old Veterans Guard, who sponsored the event, is an ad-hoc group of veterans dedicated to preserving the Veterans Home site for veterans in Los Angeles. Over the past decade, “This billion dollar parcel of land has been violated by encroachments by private and public enterprises instead of providing more housing and treatment for the 20,000 homeless veterans in LA County,” said Robert Rosebrock.

Refreshments were provided by “Two Guys Grilling” – hot dogs, hamburger, chicken sandwiches, chips, etc., and Martinelli provided apple juice and lemonade. Other supporting persons and organizations: Chaplain DOV Cohen, Operation Gratitude, Veterans United for Truth, Brooks Institute, Sepulveda and Chatsworth VA, Vet Centers – Upward Bound Program, and the event organizer, the Old Veterans Guard.

Robin Kemker
Robin Kemker