Veterans urged the community to support heroes struggling with homelessness and mental illness during a Monday morning Veterans Day ceremony.
The Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation put on the annual ceremony at Santa Barbara Cemetery.
“I love coming out, I come every year,” said retired Lt. Walter Harper, who served in the British Army Tank Corps from 1939 to 1947 during World War II. He fought in the 1942 Battle of El Alamein in Egypt among other conflicts. “I was in a different army, but it was the same war.”
At 99 years old, Lt. Harper was the most senior veteran at the ceremony.
Retired Army Pfc. Arthur Max Petersen, 94, said he also attends the Pierre Claeyssens event every year. He served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II and saw action in Normandy, Holland and in the Battle of the Bulge.
“I was wounded twice, in Holland. That’s where I got wounded. It was all volunteers in the 101st. I enjoy coming out every year, I take part in the parade too every year,” said Pfc. Petersen.
Jack Kisch, 92, recalled his time as captain of a water transport vessel in South America during World War II.
“I was issued a boat they made me a captain of, and I hauled officers to town and back in South America. That was in British Guiana right in the middle of the jungle,” said Mr. Kisch.
During his keynote speech, retired Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Coby Dillard called on the community to be proactive in helping to ease the transition of veterans from military to civilian life.
Petty Officer Dillard is the UCSB veteran and military services coordinator.
“The call to serve has no form, yet I have clearly seen it in the eyes of men and women infinitely more courageous and driven than most,” he said.
“As long as our nation exists, we will always have those who, after a lifetime of service to our nation, must be cared for and supported by the communities they protected. The need is always present,” Petty Officer Dillard said.
He noted that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs’ most recent suicide report revealed 491 California veterans died of suicide in 2017.
“That our community’s veterans need our support is not in question … 28 percent of the nation’s homeless veteran population resides in our state. Each veteran lost to suicide and each one who spends a night without a roof over their head represents a shared failure both the local community and the fraternity of veterans who live there,” Petty Officer Dillard said.
Marine veteran Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, highlighted the work his office is doing to provide services for veterans.
“I have the privilege of service on the House Armed Services Committee. It is our committee’s duty to ensure our greatest asset, our service members are taken care of,” said Mr. Carbajal, who explained that the latest passed House appropriations bill includes $3 million for the veterans transportation services and $5 million to reduce wait times on the VA phone system and ensure operators are familiar with the areas that calls are coming from. Mention of the phone system drew jeers from the crowd.
“I heard a laugh, those of you as I use the VA system know what that’s like,” said Mr. Carbajal.
“At this time in history it is crucial that we continue to act on our shared value to support our service members and veterans.”