■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
Downtown San Jacinto’s Main Street was closed on April 8, but not because of street maintenance. The road was closed to honor those who fought for our freedom. Veterans and community members were addressed by commanders of local veteran establishments along with Riverside County District Three Supervisor Chuck Washington and San Jacinto City Manager Rob Johnson. Lia Andrews from San Bernardino Veterans Center addressed the gathering and presented Veterans Day Out with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Pete R. Aguilar of the 31st Congressional District.
“It’s been a fantastic day,” said U.S. Army veteran J.R. Tofte, founder and president of Veterans Day Out (VDO). “It’s very positive and so rewarding.” VDO began five years ago when Tofte realized that he wanted to bring joy to veterans who spend most of their days at veteran’s hospitals, a majority of whom don’t have family to visit nearby. But he didn’t just want to go to the hospital and do something there…he wanted to do something bigger. After pulling together a gang of willing volunteers, VDO was born, and Tofte and his crew have been working together to bring veterans to different American Legion posts within Riverside County ever since.
A parade of motorcyclists waving American flags filled Main Street Saturday morning, followed by two buses of veterans from the Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Hospital in Loma Linda. According to Tofte, 33 veterans were transported from Loma Linda to San Jacinto for the special occasion where they were treated like the heroes they are. As the veterans disembarked the buses, they were welcomed by the honor guard as they entered the American Legion Post 848.
About 33 veterans were transported from Loma Linda to San Jacinto for the special occasion where they were treated like the heroes they are.”
Inside, the VDO ceremony started with a performance of the National Anthem sung by Linda Greilich of Golden Era Productions, followed by a prayer from Post 848 Chaplain Keith Gransbury. Veterans were served delicious meals prepared by Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary members, and San Jacinto High School JROTC members. For the rest of the evening, veterans young and old were encouraged to mingle, drink, sing karaoke and enjoy their time surrounded by good company.
Outside, children enjoyed themselves in a bounce house as members of the community participated in an antique car show. The Veterans Mobile Counseling Center was also present, ready to assist any veterans who may need information, counseling, or resources. Representatives from CalFire, AMR and the San Jacinto Police Department were on hand as well, conducting community relations outreach.
“It’s a wonderful thing,” said VDO technical advisor and U.S. Army veteran Robert Sigala. “We run into the veterans in there, and we see them smile, and that’s very rewarding for us.” Sigala has spent time in the Veterans Hospital before, and can swear that the barbecue chicken VDO serves is far better than anything you’re going to find at the hospital. “I remember being there…I used to sneak out!”
“The Veterans Day Out event was an amazing success, but would not have been possible without the superb commitment of the entire Inland Empire community,” wrote VDO Vice President Mark Worth of the event. “A sincere thank you to American Legion Post 848, Perris Wal-mart, American Legion Riders, Soboba Foundation, Choir Boys Motorcycle Club, Don Tofte Sr., Ray Cordoba and crew, American Idle Motorcycles, Loma Linda Veterans Hospital, Inland Empire productions, Hemet News, Press Enterprise, The Valley Chronicle, and to everyone who donated, their time and services to make this event so special for our nation’s Veterans.”