With a broad white handlebar mustache across his upper lip and white jacket displaying military paraphernalia, Jerry Watts proudly walked across the stage on Sunday, Nov. 12, to be recognized for his military service at the Birmingham Hospital Veterans Hall (BHVH) special Veterans Day event that also celebrated the 248th Birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.
The event, which was free and open to the community, was organized by a group of U.S. veterans in the San Fernando Valley who work to support and bring attention to veterans’ causes. Recently, the group led an effort championed by LA City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield to designate the Veterans Hall a city landmark.
Event attendees had an opportunity to see an indoor exhibit about the armed forces, learn about the special USMC birthday cake-cutting tradition, see a tribute to the POW/MIA or Missing Man Table and enjoy lunch, live entertainment, as well as other family activities.
During the event, Watts, a Purple Heart recipient and BHVH commander, and prior Cmdr. Philip Nathan, posthumously, were both recognized for their service by local elected officials including: Blumenfield, the Office of LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, the Office of Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel and the Office of U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman.
Watts, who joined the U.S. Army in 1966 at age 21 and served as a door gunner in UH-1 military helicopters called “Huey” at the height of the Vietnam War, said the event was meaningful. “Being recognized was emotional for me,” said Watts, a BHVH honoree. “Most of us who returned from the Vietnam war … felt like in our minds, we were heroes, but came home to find out that we were not; that people shunned us. This made it very hard and contributed to a lot of veteran suicides and not being able to be a part of the community. Today is the first day of our lives changing that, so that veterans can now contribute and be heard from,” added Watts.
Watts and other veterans, plan to outreach to local veterans to let them know there’s a place in the valley where they can find support.
Located at 6543 Corbin Ave. in Woodland Hills, the Birmingham Hospital Veterans Hall, also known as Disabled American Veterans Birmingham Hospital Chapter 73, and five-acre land were purchased and donated in 1947 by World War II disabled American veterans, their families and friends. Donors included 1930s child star and former U.S. ambassador Shirley Temple Black, whose brother was wounded in the battle of Iwo Jima. The property, which includes the 8,000 square foot hall, additional buildings, swimming pool and picnic area was recently added to the city of Los Angeles’s list of Historic-Cultural Monuments, an effort championed by Blumenfield.
Today, chapter members lead veteran-to-veteran volunteer efforts that include donating 13,500 servings of soup to New Directions for Veterans, and delivering canned goods, sandwiches, clothing and more to homeless veterans living on the streets. In recent months, the BHVH helped house a veteran on the property. Additional efforts to support veterans include offering the facility as a quiet, supportive and comfortable study area for young veterans in college, and as an open mic space for veterans interested in stand-up comedy and entertainment.
By hosting events at BHVH, veterans hope to continue to raise awareness about and generate community support for veterans’ causes. “Our Veterans Hall is an important community asset, a historical landmark and special gathering place for veterans,” said Bob Akre, a local veteran and BHVH executive board member. “Thanks to the generous donation of this property made by WWII vets and their families, we’re able to host events like this special ceremony acknowledging those who have served in the U.S. military and live in our community, as well as their families. The BHVH is a part of our neighborhood, our lives – and it’s where we gather to be of service to others,” added Akre.
For more information about the Birmingham Hospital Veterans Hall, visit the website at www.bhvh.us or call us at (818) 938-9118.