On Saturday, the day before Veterans Day, veterans in attendance at the inaugural “A Day for Heroes” event at the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus were given the red carpet treatment. Literally.
“Every veteran is a celebrity today and will walk the red carpet (leading into the Wadsworth Theatre for the program featuring America in concert),” said Tim Byk, president of the Greater Los Angeles Fisher House Foundation who joined hands with VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System to create this free barbecue and concert to honor the veterans.
The Fisher House Foundation is the brainchild of Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, who in 1990 recognized a need for military families to stay together while loved ones received long-term care and treatment at VA military hospitals. The West LA Fisher House, a “comfort” home, opened its doors in 2009 and is located across the street behind the VA Hospital on Wilshire Blvd.
The 16,800 square foot, 21-suite facility presents an elegant dining room, inviting living room and library, cozy family room, laundry facility, state-of-the-art kitchen, exterior patios and manicured landscape. Each suite has a private bath, internet access, computer, TV, and queen-sized or double beds with 450 thread count linens to keep guests comfortable.
It’s one of 57 free home-like lodging facilities which have saved families from the expense of seeking out their own accommodations. It was said that one family member had to sleep in their car because they couldn’t afford lodging.
Annually, the Fisher House program serves more than 17,000 families and have made available nearly four million days of lodging to family members with a total savings of $191,000,000 since the program originated.
The Fisher homes are operated by the Department of Veteran Affairs in a public-private partnership. Fisher House Foundation uses donations to reimburse the individual Fisher Houses operated by the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
The event kicked-off with a hamburger and hot dog barbecue on the great lawn/rose garden where two warm-up bands entertained the veterans. Musicians in one of the bands were all former soldiers. Many volunteers gave their time and energy.
The party then moved over to the Wadsworth Theatre for the program and concert. After walking the red carpet, the veterans were greeted by master of ceremonies and famous actor Elliot Gould who played “Trapper John” in the film “M*A*S*H (1970).
The New Directions Color Guard presented the Colors, Mr. & Mrs. Terry Rehnert, Fisher House residents, said the Pledge of Allegiance, and Ms. Elaine DuPont (The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet) sang the National Anthem before the veterans were then welcomed by VA Healthcare System/Department of Veterans Affairs director Donna Beiter and then Byk.
Gould then came back on stage to introduce the star musical attraction, “America,” who sang all their big hits, finishing with their legendary song “A Horse With No Name (1972)” as the encore.
“America” seemed to be an appropriate choice as the musical entertainment since front men Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley were both military brats when they met and then formed the band (along with Dan Peek) at Central High School in Hartfordshire, London in the late ‘60’s. At the time, Beckley’s father was the commander at the U.S. Air Force Base at West Ruislip, near London.
Both performers spoke about this and made an instant connection with the veterans sitting in the audience.
Judging by the response of the veterans, I’m sure they will welcome this event next Veterans Day and many more to come in the future.