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Holiday luncheon pays tribute to veterans
VICTORVILLE • Lee Criss headed to the fairgrounds in Victorville on Saturday with a goal to hit the swap meet, which fills the Seventh Street parking lot each weekend.
On the way, Criss happened upon a red carpet that led to a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered to honor veterans such as himself.
“Fantastic” is how Criss described the annual Veteran’s Holiday Tribute at the High Desert Event Center, formerly the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds. The 60-year-old, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam and retired as a gunnery sergeant in 1993, said the presentation of the American flag was the highlight for him of the four-hour program.
“We’re here because you did things for us that we’ll never know.”
“I salute you, I thank you, I honor you.”
These were among the sentiments expressed by speakers Saturday. With the motto, “You gave in our time of need, allow us to give back to you,” the event provides a lunch and program for veterans and their guests near the holidays each year. It’s sponsored by the Don Ferrarese Charitable Foundation under Dan Tate, with local businesses, organizations and individuals also giving generously so that all veterans can attend free of charge.
The veterans were easy to spot in the packed community hall, with matching medals hanging from red, white and blue ribbons around their necks. There were also kids in Santa hats, teens in their ROTC blues and hundreds of guests and community members there to support those who’ve served the country.
“It really shows appreciation to the vets,” said Quincy Davis, who served two years in the Marines.
Davis, who’s relatively new to Victorville, heard about Saturday’s program when he was at a home show at the fairgrounds earlier in the year. He said the speeches were powerful, with patriotic music, short movies and other programs throughout the day.
A rendition of “God Bless America” closed out the event, with just about everyone — including veterans for whom it was clearly a struggle — rising to their feet and swaying their hands in the air as they sang along.
The annual event is in keeping with the mission of the Ferrarese foundation.
After pitching baseball professionally for 15 years, Ferrarese moved to Apple Valley in 1962, where he ran several successful businesses and enthusiastically engaged in volunteering for a number of civic groups.
In 2005, a group of locals started the Ferrarese foundation with the purpose of awarding one $4,000 scholarship to one student from each local high school. That outreach grew to include not only scholarships but the annual Veterans Holiday Tribute and events such as Santa’s Sleigh Toy Drive for needy children.
The foundation is always seeking volunteers and new board members. For information, email Dan@don-frse.com or visit www.don-frse.com/.
Brooke Edwards Staggs may be reached at (760) 955-5358 or at BEdwards@VVDailyPress.com.
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