More than 400 veterans joined together May 21 to trade memories, meet new friends, and mostly, help serve each other after honorably serving their nation.
Organized by Oakhurst nonprofit Caring Veterans of America, Inc. (CVA), an annual Armed Forces Day Stand Down was held at Sierra Pines Church, where veterans were given everything from new clothing and backpacks to a barbecue lunch, and legal advice from Madera County District Attorney David Linn.
“We want to get veterans with veterans, helping each other out through any tough times,” said CVA Commander Terry Cole, a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division in the U.S. Army who served in Vietnam. “Without this, they wouldn’t be getting the extra help, they wouldn’t be getting the gear they need, they’d be left out in the cold like many of them were when they returned home.”
Richard Killingsworth, who served in the Navy from 1954 to 1962, said he was happy to attend the event and help other veterans, particularly since he didn’t serve in either the Korean or Vietnam wars.
“I think this is really great for the guys who did their duty,” Killingsworth said, as he got a free haircut from Bridgette Thornhill of Bridgette’s Shear Style in Oakhurst. “I wore a uniform, but it never got dirty. So I’ll support these guys to my dying day, and an event like this does just that.”
During the five hour Stand Down, veterans, whether homeless or not, were gifted everything from military-styled backpacks, boots, sleeping bags, plastic canteens, hygiene kits, and clothing through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and assistance from the Madera County Veterans Services Office, American Legion Post No. 110 in Oakhurst, and Linn’s office as part of his Veterans Court Plan.
As Phase I of the program, Linn said he’s worked with the county courthouse to implement two days a month in Madera specifically for veteran’s cases, presided by judges Ernest LiCalsi and Dale Blea.
Additionally, Linn and members of his staff provided legal assistance to any veteran who needed it during the Stand Down.
“The goal was to be able to work fairly and do justice for those who have served our country,” said Linn, a retired U.S. Navy Commander from 1970 to 1988 who served in Vietnam. “We want to help individuals with past problems with the law to minimize the impacts of those problems, as well as put them in a program of treatment and rehabilitation as needed.”
“This helps out a lot,” said David Pickering, an Army veteran from 1977 to 1980 recently charged with minor assault while on medications, who received legal advice from Linn and his staff. “It takes a load off the courts, plus the whole thing was weighing down a lot on me, so I’m feeling a lot better about it.”
The Stand Down was generously supported by Department of Veterans Affairs offices in the Valley and Mountain Area, supplying information about veteran’s benefits and health care support. Representatives from the American Legion and other groups assisted veterans throughout the event.
The next Stand Down is planned 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., July 16, at Yosemite Lakes Community Church.
Details: (559) 658-8939, firstname.lastname@example.org.