LIVERMORE -- An invading army of well-wishers landed at the Livermore Veterans' Hospital recently, on a mission to brighten the holidays for ill and aging service members.
Armed only with enthusiasm, groups of Boy and Girl Scouts, Granada High School cheerleaders and leadership members and members of service, church and military support organizations stormed the halls of the outpatient hospital and nursing home on Dec. 7. In their wake they left glittering garlands and brightly lit trees at both buildings, as well as small Christmas gifts for the 90 long-term residents of the nursing facility.
The yearly decorating event is sponsored by the Veterans Remembrance Committee, a small group of retired service members who work quietly to improve the circumstances of veterans around the area. Founded in 1926 as the Veterans Christmas Committee, the organization began with a simple purpose -- to foster public remembrance and appreciation for the veterans' service and to bring cheer to Bay Area military hospitals over the Christmas holiday.
"The idea was to go to hospitals to decorate and to provide gifts and entertainment for those hospitalized veterans who were away from home," said Joseph Ratto, a board member whose aunt, Mary Valle, was involved in the American Legion and who was instrumental in the group's formation decades ago. "It was an entire group of volunteers -- no one was ever paid."
In the early days of the organization, donors would have their names published in the Oakland Tribune by editor and publisher William Knowland, a supporter of the group, said Ratto. The invested proceeds of those early donations continue to fund the group's work. In addition to decorating the Livermore hospital, the organization provides a holiday entertainment program and gifts at the Livermore hospital and at the Martinez Outpatient Clinic that is part of the VA Northern California Health Care System.
Among patients enjoying the day was 10-year Air Force veteran Tortillas Bailey, 51, who has been at the nursing facility for three years.
"I appreciate this place," she said with a smile, watching a group of teenage Boy Scouts decorate a nearby tree. "When I was that age I didn't know anything about this kind of volunteering."
Near her sat 91-year-old Marine veteran John Schultheis, who served in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945 and took part in the Battle of Guadalcanal. He sat straight-backed in a wheelchair watching the young Scouts.
"This is nice; I think it's wonderful," he said. "They didn't have anything like this when I was a kid. They're helping everybody ... and it's an opportunity for them to come out and talk to us."
One of those Scouts, Coletrane Phillips, 14, of Pack 888 in San Ramon, paused from draping a strand of silver beads on the tree.
"We come here every year," he said. "We like helping the vets; it's important to us. It brings home the holiday to us, and makes us feel better about ourselves."
Scout Parker Shields, 15, agreed.
"They put their lives on the line for us," he said. "We should give at least a little for them."
For more information on the Veterans Remembrance Committee, visit: http://veteransremembrancecommittee.org.
For more information, visit: http://veteransremembrancecommittee.org.