More than 500 people took the opportunity to learn about the benefits and services for veterans and their families, and heard heartfelt words from Congressman Raul Ruiz and Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, during the 11th annual Veterans Expo at the Beaumont Civic Center last Saturday.
The event featured more than 60 vendors representing 10 Veterans Affairs Departments, along with agencies and non-profit organizations within San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
Veterans talked with representatives from Riverside National Cemetery about burial arrangements and citizens waited in line to donate blood at the Life Stream Mobile Blood Bank in the parking lot.
Attendees enjoyed hot dogs, which included 400 franks and buns donated by SandTrap Sports Bar and Grill.
Almost every inch of the gymnasium featured a wealth of information for veterans about transitioning from military to civilian life and Honor Flight, founded by Forrest Gump actor Gary Sinise, that flies veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the Veterans Memorial and other historic sites.
The three-hour event takes a year to plan by the Veterans Expo 2020 Committee, which meets the third Thursday at 9 a.m. at the civic center.
One of the co-founders, Anita Worthen, was praised by Congressman Raul Ruiz and fifth district County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt for her tireless work on behalf of veterans.
Worthen has said that the expo is possible because of the committee’s work throughout the year. She founded the expo because her late husband served in the military.
Ruiz, who attends the expo every year as a featured speaker, expressed his gratitude to Worthen for her vision.
“Imagine her doing this in the memory of her husband,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz presented veteran Dr. Martin Oliver Jr. with four medals at the ceremony. Oliver was born in Wisconsin in 1945 and joined the Air Force in 1966.
He went through basic training at Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas and completed his specialty training as a Morse Code Intercept operator at Kessler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. with 100 percent accuracy of 16 Morse Group codes per minute.
Oliver served as offshore support for two years in the Vietnam War at Pearl Harbor.
He was a member of the 7651st Aeronautical Chart and Information Squadron at Hickman Air Force Base, making the rank of E4 Sergeant.
Last Saturday, Oliver received the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, the Air Force Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and Small Arms Expert Markmanship Ribbon.
“Medals have a very healing quality,” Ruiz said.
Veterans, like Jim Kaylor, 88, shared their stories about their service.
Kaylor, of Banning, served in the 46th Quartermaster Corps of the Infantry.
Kaylor said he was in the Infantry a little more than four years.
Among his memories was in North Korea, where it was cold and their military attire was less than desirable.
“We didn’t have the proper clothing and it was snowing,” Kaylor said.
Their military equipment was used; he said the Chinese had newer equipment than the United States.
Kaylor liked the expo for its accessibility to so many agencies under one roof.
Supervisor Jeff Hewitt also praised Worthen for her devotion and hard work on behalf of veterans and made people think about all of the resources available at the expo, thanks to the committee.
Hewitt also told the audience that between 2000 to 2018, there were 375,000 traumatic brain injuries among military personnel.
Tony and Lisa Lucchesi were visiting the Veterans Expo for the first time.
Tony served four years active duty and two years inactive duty in the Air Force when President Jimmy Carter was in office.
His father Albert served in the Navy; and Lisa’s aunt Tamara served in the National Guard.
Lisa said she liked visiting the expo for the first time. “I like getting to know the congressman and we know Nancy Carroll and we know the other council members because we go to the city council meetings,” she said.
Staff writer Julie Farren may be reached at email@example.com or by calling (951) 849-4586.