On November 2, Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation (PCVF) held its 23rd annual Military Ball, where it honored veterans and active duty members and paid special tribute to women in the military. At the entrance to this always grand affair, guests were greeted by the sounds of Scottish bagpipe player Bill Boetticher while they strolled past WWII jeeps. During the extended reception in the ballroom foyer, veterans and their families mingled with active duty members and supporters and their families. Of the 600 guests, 250 attended as guests of the foundation, including ROTC members, returning veterans at SBCC and UCSB, enlisted personnel at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Point Magu, and Port Hueneme, and British Army Lt. Col. Ian Gumm and the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
The Grand Ballroom was beautifully framed by white star projections against blue walls, red curtains on stage, and flags from a multitude of nations around the room. Guests were welcomed by emcee PCVF co-founder and co-Director Lt. John Blankenship (USN, former), who related how Pierre Claeyssens, who created the first ball in 1996, felt very strongly that this event be held every year so that all veterans, regardless of rank or branch of service, would be honored and never forgotten. The program included solemn tributes, but also lighthearted, playful jabs at the different branches of service, and a dance break with a lively dance floor full of twenty-somethings to eighty-somethings.
Senior Cadet Kirsten Annell (UCSB ROTC Surfrider Battalion), performed the Missing Man Ceremony, explaining the symbolism of the small, spotlighted, empty table for missing comrades in arms who are with us in spirit. Major Carolyn Alexandra Wagnild, an Apache helicopter pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of only three female pilots in her battalion, led the Salute to Services Musical Tribute, with members of each branch, former and current, rising.
Blankenship emphasized the critical importance of supporting veterans, as PCVF does. In the past five years, PCVF has provided nearly $400,000 for emergency living expenses to 37 returning veteran students at UCSB. In the past two years, PCVF has also supported many veteran graduates of SBCC in their continuing studies at UCSB and other schools. The foundation is an active participant in VETNET, a network of nonprofit organizations working with the VA to assist veterans and their families obtain the resources they need.
Presenter, facilitator, and author Eileen McDargh enthralled guests with the story “Mama was a WASP,” a reference to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the 1,176 women who flew for the military in WWII. McDargh related how WASPs flew every kind of airplane manufactured in the U.S, but were considered civilians, so lacked military honor and benefits. The WASPs were finally granted military status in the 1970s and given the Presidential Gold Medal by President Obama in 2010.
McDargh explained how the shortage of pilots led the military to accept female pilots. These women flew 60 million miles and 38 died in the course of duty. Before the war’s end, Congress decided women would no longer be allowed to fly. McDargh related the heartbreaking story of how the WASPs’ commanding officer told them “Ladies, thank you for flying wingtip to wingtip with your brothers. Your services are no longer needed. Please find your own way home.” Her mother had to wire family for money to get home. Women were not allowed into cockpits of military planes for 30 years.
The Generations of Service Award went to the “Flying Reichels.” Their service began with LCDR Alfred Julius Reichel Jr.’s enlistment in 1917 and runs down to his great-grand-daughter LCDR selectee Julie (Reichel) Hooge, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2009. Other family service members are LCDR Sharon (Reichel) Wagner, Lt. Col. Alan Reichel, LCDR Richard Reichel, and E-4 Specialist Fourth Class Steven Reichel.
Then guests danced the night away to music by the Art Deco Entertainment.
The PCVF was created in 2003 by John and Hazel Blankenship with a gift from Pierre Claeyssens. The foundation has carried on the tradition of the Military Ball and holds many other annual events honoring veterans, including the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Santa Barbara Cemetery, the 4th of July Concert and Parade, the Veterans Day Ceremony at the cemetery (with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1649), and the Veterans Parade on State Street.
For a list of Veteran’s Day weekend events and for more info about PCVF, go to pcvf.org.