It’s easy -- perhaps too easy -- to forget that in addition to being a world-renowne destination for fine food, wine, and natural beauty, Napa Valley is also home to the Veterans Home Of California in Yountville.
Founded in 1884, the facility is the largest veterans home in the United States and home to some 1,100 aged or disabled veterans, both men and women, of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom.
You may have been on the campus to see a show at the Lincoln Theater, or to visit the Napa Valley Museum. But at the top of the hill behind the campus, in a beautiful and quiet setting of oak trees, is the Veterans Home cemetery where veterans born as far back as the 1860s are buried, and where each year the veterans living at the home hold a special ceremony on Memorial Day to remember their fallen comrades.
This year's program started with the "Hills Angels" Wheelchair Team arriving in formation, saluting the dais and then turning together on command to salute the audience.
Colors were presented by the Scottish American Military Society followed by the singing of the National Anthem. Staff Sgt Harry Louque then walked up to the podium accompanied by his service dog and led the group in the Pledge Of Allegiance.
A report on the previous night’s bonfire was given by one of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 702 in the audience, followed by the Veterans Home report from Ed Olson, Chair of the Allied Council.
Commander Marcella McCormack MSC USN (Ret), one of the Administrators for the vets home, read a proclamation from Governor Brown and a letter from Mike Thompson, followed by speeches from Assemblyman Michael Allen and Yountville Mayor John Dunbar. Both Allen and Dunbar stressed the importance of doing everything we can for returning vets as well as remembering those that have fallen in the line of duty.
Napa songwriter Juliane Poirier sang her composition "Marching Home," written for the day. The crowd was silent as she performed, with one vet yelling “Brava!” when she finished.
A soldier at the top of the hill in the distance blew taps followed by the retiring of the colors. As the color guard marched back up the hill into the cemetery, the soldier holding the POW/MIA flag stopped and stayed just inside the gate representing those that were left behind.
The entire group then walked up to the very top of the hill where wreaths were laid on the monument marking the tomb of the unknowns.
Right on time at 11 a.m. came the drone of two WWII Vintage Stearmans biplanes for the flyover as veterans and spectators silently honored the ultimate sacrifice so many have made in protecting the freedoms we often take for granted.