Big crowd turns out for Veterans Military Ball

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Vietnam War Army veteran Tom Hilzendeger reacts as he is presented with surprise honors for his work with the Vets4Veterans organization during the 2019 Veterans Military Ball, sponsored by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2 in Lancaster, Calif. Hilzendeger is the founder of the organization that works in finding affordable housing for veterans. Pictured, escorting Hilzedeger is Blue Star Mom Stacia Nemeth. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

LANCASTER, Calif.–A crowd of more than 300 friends and supporters of American’s armed forces turned out for the 2019 Veterans Military Ball Nov. 2. The ball was at the Hellenic Center in Lancaster, and hosted by the Coffee4Vets nonprofit organization.

Col. Christopher Spinelli, vice commander of the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, spoke to the gathering of veterans of all U.S. branches and eras of service.

“There are 18 million veterans, and that seems like a lot, but it’s really not,” he told the group. “When you consider that there are 327 million Americans, 18 million is not that many.”

He added, “It is not our diversity that is our strength. It is actually our unity that is our strength. That is the strength we have in the military.”

The Veterans Military Ball volunteer committee organized tributes to three veterans recognized as rendering extraordinary service to the Antelope Valley.

The honorees were Bishop Henry Hearns, Lancaster Mayor Emeritus and Army veteran of the Korean War; Steve Baker, Executive Director of Grace Resource Center, and Vietnam War Era veteran of the Navy, and Tom Hilzendeger, President of Vets4Veterans, and Vietnam combat veteran, who served with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Honoree Bishop, Henry Hearns, a U.S. Army veteran, is congratulated and presented with a proclamation by Christine Ward, veterans’ representative for California Sen. Scott Wilk during the 2019 veterans Military Ball hosted by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2 in Lancaster, Calif. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

“Some of you know I have lung cancer, they took my lung, and I am making my way back,” Hilzendeger said. “I wasn’t expecting this. All I can tell you is that the last 10 years has been the best ride of my life, with my beautiful wife, Megan. I thank you all.”

Hilzendeger’s nonprofit, Vets4Veterans, collaborates with other groups, to fight veteran homelessness, and underwrite scholarships for veterans transitioning from active duty.

Baker said “I joined the Navy to see the world, and I got to see Fresno and San Diego,” said that he, and other committed veterans, launched the Veterans Outreach 16 years ago, to provide food, shelter and services to veterans.

Hearns was an Army draftee during the Korean War. “I asked my Lord for two things,” he said. “I asked that I would not die on foreign soil, and that I not have to kill another person.” He said the Lord granted him both those prayers, and he then dedicated himself to a life of service as a pastor, and a community leader.

Honoree and U.S. Navy veteran Steve Baker addresses a crowd gathered for the 2019 Veterans Military Ball, sponsored by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2 in Lancaster, Calif. Coffee4 Vets is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving senior military veterans. The theme of the night’s ceremony focused on honoring “Veterans of yesterday who secured our today.” Baker is the CEO of Grace Resource Center, an organization instrumental in meeting the needs of the homeless and homeless veterans. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

With the service songs of all branches playing, the Young Marines youth group organization, presented the colors, and local singer Donna Sweikow sang the National Anthem.

Each of the honorees was recognized by representatives of Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, and also state Sen. Scott Wilk and Assemblyman Tom Lackey, joined by Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer, and City Councilman Juan Carrillo.

Coffee4Vets President Juan Blanco welcomed the honorees onto the stage and explained that the mission of Coffee4Vets is to promote education, information, healing and social camaraderie for veterans of all services.

The ritual of the POW-MIA “missing troops” table was read aloud to the room by Vietnam combat veteran Michael Bertell, President of Point Man AV, and Stacia Nemeth, Volunteer Coordinator for the Antelope Valley Mobile Vietnam Memorial.

The cutting of the ceremonial cake that honors veterans of all services and eras was done by the youngest Marine, Iraq War veteran Cpl. Krishna Flores. She cut and served cake to the Guest of Honor, Spinelli, and cake was served to Navy veterans Art Ray, and Gwen Bolden, who served as an officer stateside during the Korean War.

Ray, like Bolden, was born in 1925. He served aboard the USS Quincy, which provided ground fire support on D-Day, carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference, and was at Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony that marked the end of World War II.
 

Blue Star parents, from left, John and Stacia Nemeth , along with Mike Bertell, Vietnam veteran and president of Point Man Antelope Valley organization, raise a glass in honor of all veterans during a ceremonial toast at the 2019 Veterans Military Ball, sponsored by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2 in Lancaster, Calif. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Keynote speaker, Col. Christopher Spinelli, vice commander of the Air Force Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., addresses a crowd gathered for the 2019 Veterans Military Ball, hosted by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2 in Lancaster, Calif. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Local military veterans and their families take to the dance floor during the 2019 Veterans Military Ball, sponsored by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2, in Lancaster, Calif. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Members of the Antelope Valley Young Marines present colors during the 2019 Veterans Military Ball, sponsored by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2, in Lancaster, Calif. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Korean War era Navy Veteran, Gwen Bolden, 94, left, is served cake by young Marine veteran, Krishna Flores during a ceremonial cake cutting at the 2019 Veterans Military Ball, hosted by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2 in Lancaster, Calif. Also pictured, standing from left are Air Force veteran, Chuck Simmons and Col. Christopher Spinelli, vice commander, Air Force Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Iraq veteran Elliot McKenzie performs for a crowd gathered for the 2019 Veterans Military Ball, sponsored by Coffee4Vets, Nov. 2 in Lancaster, Calif. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
President and founder of Coffee4Vets, Juan Blanco, right, honors special guests during a presentation at the 2019 Veterans Military Ball , sponsored by his organization, Nov. 2,2019, in Lancaster, Calif. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)