Wayne Sherman gave the keynote address at this year’s Veterans Day ceremony at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. We are printing his remarks here for your enjoyment. SBTHP would like to thank Wayne for sharing these words with us; he inspired us all to honor and remember our nation’s veterans. To read more about SBTHP’s Veteran’s Day Ceremony, look for the Winter issue of La Campanain February 2012.
Thank you Dr. Jackman, and welcome to all attending today’s Veterans Day Ceremony at the Royal Presidio de Santa Barbara; sponsored by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, on this special but somewhat foreboding day. My name is Wayne Edward Sherman and I am a staff member of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. I serve as the steward for the Santa Inés Mission Mills, soon to be a State Historic Park, in Solvang, CA.
Let me begin my remarks by admitting that I was reluctant to accept this speaker’s position today because I am not a veteran of the U.S. Military. I have participated in many Memorial Day Ceremonies because of my deep interest in the Grand Army of the Republic, the veteran’s organization that first instituted that day as Decoration Day, and my connection with the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington, CA.
Most Veterans Day ceremonies I have witnessed have had proud military veterans telling their stories and inspiring us, the citizen and the soldier, with sometimes sad and sometimes heroic tales from past conflicts and more recently, from the near to the present.
Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Drew Bledsoe, Wayne Gretsky, Michael Jordan, Arnold Palmer are not heroes, they are simply sports legends, no more than that. My heroes have always been more selfless than successful. Selflessness is a trait, along with patriotism, that can be found most abundantly among the ranks of our United States Military–past, present and future. Most people have never heard of the people I consider heroes. There’s Sgt. Charles “Carlos” Jenkins, Co E, 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry, A.K.A. “The California Battalion.” He was the only man from Los Angeles to fight in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War and return. He wounded the famous Confederate guerilla Col John S. Mosby in a close action fight on horseback, receiving a bullet himself and 15 months as a P.O.W. in Confederate prisons for a thank you.
More locally there is Sgt. Juan de la Guerra, Co. C California Native Cavalry Battalion, a native Santa Barbara son who, along with 100 of his closest friends and family, formed one of the first all-Hispanic companies in the U.S. Military. He and his compadres broke the Californio mold, serving proudly under their new Flag. In fact, the Santa Barbara Company was by far the most competent company in the battalion. Sgt. Juan was a GAR member and the last surviving member of Company C; a unique and proud chapter in Santa Barbara’s martial history.
From my family, although he passed away before I was born, there’s Seaman Joseph Sherman, my grandfather, who enlisted in the Navy during WWI. On Armistice Day, the predecessor of this very day, his ship was torpedoed and he spent the next several days “after the war had ended” floating in a raft and wondering if he would be rescued. Apparently he was, or I wouldn’t be here.
Cpl. John Didwalis, my great uncle on my mother’s side, enlisted in the 121st Combat Engineers during WWII. He was an electrician and a Bangalore man. He found himself in the very first wave on Omaha Beach with his unit taking horrendous casualties to open the way through the Vierville draw for the 29th Division. The insanity of those moments on that beach has been represented in at least two films: “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan;” though even the grizzliest Hollywood production could never, thankfully, capture what happened there. The exit was finally opened and soon after Uncle Johnny was captured and spent the rest of the war freezing in a German prison camp. At war’s end he was rescued by Russian tanks driven by “Russian women,” he’d always say with a smile. Uncle Johnny told me stories about the prison camp but never about the beach that day. I had to do the research myself. That is another trait that runs clear through our military men and women ever since the beginning, humility.
Then there are the ones you never saw coming. I am a Civil War reenactor and about 12 years ago I attended an event in Irvine, CA called “Marching through History.” It represented all eras of America’s martial history with Revolutionary War, Civil War, Indian Wars, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII reenactments and the Modern Military showing off their skills and latest equipment.
I was standing in full Union Cavalry field dress; shell jacket, spurs, leathers, kepi and a ’59 Sharps Carbine slung over my shoulder while watching Navy Seals demonstrate diving re-breathers in a big, portable, water tank flown in by helicopter. And while engrossed in watching I faintly heard a feeble voice say something behind me. Looking over my shoulder I saw nothing but looking down I saw a pair of feet sticking out from a wheel chair attached to an old fellow with palsied hands and looking directly at me; another man stood behind to wheel him about.
I asked him if he had said something and he looked me directly in the eye and said, “You look real!” I bent over to reach out and grasp his quaking hand to say, “Thank You,” and, as I did, the Medal of Honor rolled out from under his collar and swung to center upon his chest and I said, very, very, coolly, “bbbbbbbbuuu bbbbbuuuubbb bbbuuuut but you are real sir and I thank you!” He smiled, repeated that I did look real to him, and went on his way. I, sadly, didn’t catch his name but I also didn’t want to wash my hand when I arrived home later that weekend.
So, having considered how much I appreciate what these brave men and women of our Armed Forces have done for our Nation and our Allies through out our history, I reconsidered giving the remarks this Veterans Day because I realized that at the very core of Veterans Day is the idea of giving thanks and showing appreciation; as citizens, to our veterans, current military and even the young cadets that have preformed so ably for us today.
It would seem a very hollow affair if Veterans Day was only about veterans honoring veterans. As an appreciative citizen of these United States I am proud to give my remarks today as my humble thanks to the men and women of our armed forces past, present and future. I personally, along with the staff of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, thank and salute our veterans, those now in service to our country and you young people planning to follow in such proud footsteps. Thank you my Heroes, thank you one and all.
This past summer the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation’s Archaeological Field School found a Civil War era button behind the Presidio Chapel. Research has narrowed owners of this military bauble to about 400 Civil War soldiers that were, at one time or another, stationed in Santa Barbara. Our most likely suspect is the California Native Cavalry Battalion; Sgt. Juan de la Guerra’s boys, as the Presidio area was home turf to many members of this organization.
In honor of this new discovery of another layer of Santa Barbara’s long history the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation is presenting a special one-day exhibit for those attending to enjoy. Displayed you will find the regalia, badges and uniforms of Santa Barbara’s first veterans organization, the Grand Army of the Republic.
Members of the local “Starr King Post,” #52, used to meet just behind the Presidio—in the recently remodeled Carrillo Recreation Center. On an upstairs wall at the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum is a picture of about 40 surviving, Department of California, Grand Army of the Republic veterans sitting in front of that brick building as it appeared in 1934 and having their picture captured for eternity. White, African-American, and Hispanic veterans all sit together proudly for this image as the Grand Army of the Republic was ahead of its time with regard to race. If you were an honorably discharged Union Veteran, you could be a member.
The Grand Army’s tenants of “fraternity, charity, and loyalty” still ring true through subsequent veteran’s organizations to this day. The Grand Army was about taking care of our nation’s heroes so that they would never be forgotten. Let those traditions continue today and may we always remember to remember our veterans.
Wayne Sherman is SBTHP’s Santa Inés Mission Mills Steward and a Civil War re-enactor with the Fort Tejon Historical Association’s Civil War program. He portrays a Cavalry Trooper with Company a 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry aka “The California Hundred.”