A day of gratitude and heaviness at Yountville veterans home
Outside the black iron gates and white columns that border the hillside cemetery, they gathered to remember.
Beneath white canopies and outstretched oaks, residents, family and friends met Monday at the Veterans Home of California at Yountville, sharing a Memorial Day ceremony featuring expressions of gratitude, music and military solemnity.
The day honored those who had given their lives in military service to their country. But speakers also urged listeners to remember veterans still living for their sacrifices.
And a few mentioned the pain this winter in losing three mental health clinicians killed on the veterans home grounds by a troubled former Army infantryman, who then killed himself.
“This community is also still grieving the recent loss in March of staff that served those that served our great nation,” skilled nursing administrator Jay Caddell told the audience of nearly 200, referring to Christine Loeber, Jen Golick and Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, staff members of the Pathway Home, a separate residential treatment program for traumatized veterans.
“We want to honor them as well.”
Opened in 1884, the veterans home is the largest of eight such facilities in California and among the oldest homes in the nation. More than 800 veterans and spouses live at the 615-acre campus.
The home’s cemetery holds nearly 6,000 graves of residents and family members, including 2,000 Civil War veterans and four Medal of Honor recipients.
“It’s really hallowed ground,” said resident James Musson, a Vietnam War Army veteran standing in the cemetery near a monument dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers. Three wreaths were placed there Monday, where a nearby plaque includes the words “known but to God.”
Monday’s ceremony included two members the Yountville Town Council. Mayor John Dunbar told the audience the veterans home is “a significant part of the fabric of Yountville and has been for generations.”
Dunbar read a message from Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, himself a veteran, who called on Americans to remember those vets who had survived the horrors of war and lived with “the constant reminder that they have been changed forever.”
Town Council Member Kerri Dorman said Americans must find ways to “pay it forward” - to do good in response to those service members who had sacrificed on behalf of country.
“We owe them,” Dorman said. “We cannot let that go unsaid.”
Those present suggested that over the decades, the nation has done a mixed job of caring for its veterans.
“In the late 19th century, many civil war veterans were indigent,” said Caddell, times when local governments often sold the bodies of the deceased poor for medical research.
The Civil War veterans who pushed for the founding of the Yountville home not only provided a place to care for fellow vets.
By setting aside the adjoining cemetery, they “made sure residents of the home were treated with respect and honor, even in death,” he said.
The veterans home and its residents are “living history,” said resident Artis Breau, whose late husband had served in the Merchant Marine, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. The couple met in the early 1950s while she was a civilian working for U.S. Army Chief of Staff Matthew Ridgway.
Breau had a suggestion for those who want to make a difference beyond Memorial Day for those who have served their country.
“Remember,” she said, “the ones that are alive.”