By Zac Bianco –
As I walked toward the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Loma Linda, I noticed a twist on a familiar logo – instead of “To Protect and Serve”, the Veterans Affairs police cars read: “To Protect Those Who’ve Served.” This made me smile and set a tone of service for the afternoon.
My first encounter was with a young 64 year old Air Force Staff Sergeant, Mr. Willie Johnson. Sgt. Johnson joined the Air Force just one day before he was to be drafted into the Army. Although he grew up in Mississippi, running and playing football, Sgt. Johnson spent most of his life in the West. He said that even though the military was forced upon him, he wouldn’t have changed a thing. He interjected that the world needs leaders and that the military is a place for growth! Sgt. Johnson wanted me to know that along with his successful Air Force experience, he very much enjoyed a second career with Stater Bros. Markets. He is proud to have worked for a company that so readily supports Veterans – credit Chairman and CEO, Jack Brown.
I also had a great visit with another true servant of the people, Mr. Jim Knight. Mr. Knight grew up in Southern California - a rare native. He joined the Army in 1980 and served as a cook in the Officer’s Club. The Army taught Mr. Knight quite a few things in life, but nothing stood out quite as much as his personal development. Mr. Knight revealed that he has always been a leader, but that the Army helped him to “lead by example.” In the VA Hospital, Mr. Knight serves as the Community Living Center President, where he looks after his fellow Veterans, and shows them compassion. He loves what he does, and it is quite evident. Mr. Knight is the epitome of a servant leader. He does not dwell on himself, but wanted me to know and share with others, that “These veterans can always use things here; new clothes or socks or any other new non- perishables.” Like most Veterans do when I meet them, Mr. Knight left me with a bit of advice: “If you set your goals, stick to them. Keep your eye on the prize and nothing is out of your reach.”
The last person we visited was a very encouraging man, who is an extreme help to the patients at the VA Hospital. Al Marconi served in the Navy (as a Corpsman), and in the Army (as a Major in Biochemical warfare). Maj. Marconi provided a different point of view, as he is no longer a patient at the Veterans Affairs Hospital, but a volunteer. This 66 year old war veteran explained that giving back was the greatest feeling in the world. When he was a patient in the VA, doing physical therapy to regain movement of his upper body, Maj. Marconi decided that he wanted to become an archer. Against all odds, he has become very accomplished in his craft, earning medals all across the country. Maj. Marconi shared quite a bit of wisdom, but two things stand out: “Live! Live every moment of life to its very fullest.” And, “Color-blindness is the greatest thing in the world.”
These three men reminded me of some important lessons: the fullness of life, the value of love, and the mandate of service. My ‘take-aways’ were to live without reservation, serve in order to be filled, and respect your team regardless of gender, ethnic, religious or cultural differences. These words of wisdom apply whether we are talking about those that are protecting our freedom, representing us in government, or serving us in the corporate world. As Maj. Marconi pointed out: “[The world] needs more people who care. When the baton is passed, it is good to know that real, honest, hardworking people are going to pick it up and run.”
Thank you to all of our men and woman who have served in the armed services. The results of your commitment are evident, and your service to this country will not be forgotten.
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