Ceremonies in Vallejo honor, thank veterans

Vallejo Times-Herald
By Dianne de Guzman & Irma Widjojo | November 11, 2015

Jackson Jones sat next to his favorite veteran during the Veterans Day Ceremony on Wednesday morning in Vallejo.

That veteran was Harold Thompson, the 9-year-old boy's great grandfather.

Thompson, a Vallejo resident, fought in World War II and continued to serve in the United States National Guard until he retired 17 years ago.

"This brings so many memories," Thompson said of the ceremony.

The annual Veterans Day event at the Veterans Memorial behind the John F. Kennedy Library attracted more than 100 people, many of whom served in the military.

The ceremony was only one of the few that took place in Vallejo to honor those who have served the country.

Four generations of the Thompson family were with him at the ceremony.

"He's not a social creature, but he always goes to this ceremony," his wife Barbara Thompson said.

Speakers during the ceremony also emphasized that the gratitude for the veterans should not only last 24 hours.

"Tomorrow Veterans Day is going to be over," said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, in a letter read by a representative. "But our commitment to our veterans must not end here. ... Let's not just say 'Thank you,' let's keep our promise (to look after them)."

The guest speaker at the ceremony was the executive director of Rebuilding Together Solano County, Elizabeth Hoffman.

As part of its service, the nonprofit organizations rehabilitates homes and buildings for veterans who are in need financially and physically.

Hoffman said since 2009, Rebuilding Together volunteers have rehabilitated 14 homes of low-income veterans in Solano County.

"(Veterans) were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary way at extreme times," Hoffman said.

Earlier in the day, about 20 people gathered at the Mare Island Naval Cemetery to pay respect to the fallen heroes.

The 20th annual event, organized by the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation, also included the laying of a wreath at a monument remembering those who were killed on U.S.S. Boston during an explosion.

Touro University California held its own Veterans Day event at noon, in front of the restored flag pole in front of the Mare Island Hospital.

Organized by the school's Military Club, the ceremony honored students, faculty and staff who are currently serving — or have served — in the military.

The event featured speeches from student members of the Military Club and school administrators and a trumpet rendition of "Taps" played by Neil Yepson, an Army veteran and father of Military Club president Hayley Yepson.

"I'm very proud of those who have made a commitment to serve in the military and very proud of our students, faculty and staff who are veterans who have done significant service," Dr. Marilyn Hopkins, Provost and COO of Touro University, said after the event. "It just seems to be an appropriate thing to (hold this event) and it creates this community of caring that we have here and acknowledges major sacrifices that our veterans ... have a long history of service."

Haylee Yepson was among those from the club who helped to organize Wednesday's event, and will be serving in the Navy after receiving her degree from Touro University in 2018.

"We just wanted to do something to honor those on campus who have served, those in the community who have served and there's also a lot of faculty here with prior military experience," Yepson said in an interview. "We're also on such historic ground with the military, it all just feels so natural to do this (event)."

Along with the event, the Military Club also organized a toiletry drive for Operation Dignity, a nonprofit which helps homeless veterans, runs emergency shelters for homeless vets and their families and provides hygiene kits and blankets for veterans on the streets. The club, along with Phillips Charter School in Napa, helped collect 400 pounds of toiletries for the charity.

"(The Military Club was) trying to find a charity that matched our mission and what we wanted to do and so (Operation Dignity's) mission perfectly exemplifies what we wanted to do: Veterans helping veterans," Yepson said. "We've taken the oath to serve and we want to help others that have served that are now in a less-fortunate position."

Shelley Berkley, CEO and Senior Provost of Touro University, spoke to the crowd about her father's service in the military and working with the Veteran Affairs Committee during her time as a congresswoman. Berkley echoed Thompson's sentiments in her speech, imploring everyone to thank veterans each and every day.

"It was in that capacity (with the Veteran Affairs Committee) that I fully realized the impact on these young men and women," Berkeley said to the crowd. "They answered, generation after generation, the call of this nation to defend and protect our great nation and when they come back, this nation doesn't always protect and defend those who have given so much to the rest of us. I love Veterans Day; it gives us an opportunity to thank those who answered the call. But I think every day must be Veterans Day in the country and until we recognized the sacrifices made, one day a year is simply not going to do it."