FLR-05-Memorial Day

By Bruce Selcraig | San Antonio Express News

After the national anthem, a prayer, an Air Force band playing “Wild Blue Yonder,” reading of scripture and heartfelt speeches by Air Force personnel and volunteers honoring veterans Saturday at the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home in Floresville, the event was beginning to wind down.

Most of the elderly veterans were in wheelchairs and some had begun to nod off in the warm and humid afternoon. But then one of the event’s organizers, Master Sgt. Christopher Dion, from the 802nd Security Force Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, cued up country singer Lee Greenwood’s 1984 anthem, “God Bless the USA,” and asked the assembled crowd of mainly motorcycle club members and volunteers to mingle with the veterans and tell them personally of their gratitude.

Dozens of burly guys in full biker gear from 10 area clubs, including the Fallen Saints, Soldiers for Jesus and Legacy Vets from Corpus Christi, were emotional as they waded through the crowd of welcoming vets, some of whom have Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“I tell them how much I value their sacrifice,” said co-chairman of the event, J.D. Davidsmeyer, the son of a Vietnam vet. “But I’ve learned not to say much more because I’m not a veteran and I like to just let them talk. They need more recognition.”

Seth Roam, 10, who attends Floresville South Elementary, stuck out his hand to Air Force vet Oscar Houck and said, “Thank you for your service.”

“This all makes me feel very proud,” said Houck, from his wheelchair.

The day of barbecue and patriotism kicked off as about 100 bikers assembled at the Floresville Wal-Mart, then roared their way to the veterans home, named after the late Democratic state and U.S. Rep. Frank Tejeda, D-San Antonio, a decorated Marine who received the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart. The 160-bed facility, which opened in 2000, currently houses about 157 veterans and is one of eight other state veterans homes that are funded by the Texas Veterans Land Board, under the General Land Office, and the federal Veterans Administration, which pays the state a per diem for each qualified veteran.

Dion said three years ago he, Davidsmeyer and Lackland volunteers joined with biker clubs like the Sovereign Sons and Combat Vets to raise money for the Tejeda home’s vets and to specifically gather donations all year of basic items such as pajamas, socks, t-shirts, socks, jackets and toiletries. Now the annual event is called “Basics For The Best.”

Nanci Struble, the on-site representative for the Texas Veterans Land Board, said the Tejeda home is “blessed with volunteers,” but encouraged the public to think of the veterans all year long.

“We can use volunteers who play music or have craft skills,” said Struble. “We’d love to have more people who can go with them fishing or to Missions and high school football games. They love to visit with kids and they really love dogs. We just ask that the dogs be calm, have their shots and be on a leash.”

“Without exception,” said Struble, “our volunteers all say they get far more from the experience than the vets. They need us 12 months a year, not just on Memorial Day and Christmas.”

bselcraig@express-news.net