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.
“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.”
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.
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.