Taking a veteran to the hospital for chemotherapy is not in her job description as Benicia Veterans’ Memorial Hall facility manager, but Patty Brock often goes the extra mile to make a difference in the lives of veterans. She is part of the hall’s tight knit community where people take care of each other and help brighten days with friendship and camaraderie. “All of us do whatever we can for the veterans who come down here,” Brock said. The Vets’ Hall at the top of First Street is part meeting place, part social club and part event venue. Many veterans find their way there by wandering in to the downstairs canteen and asking for help with benefits or other issues. Veterans who join one of the organizations have access to the canteen where they are welcome to recount their military experiences, watch a sports game, play pool, enjoy a weekly barbecue lunch and do community service projects. Veterans also gather at the hall on patriotic holidays for special programs. On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, an 11am program will include remarks by Naval Chief John Gordon, who fought in World War II’s Battle of Guadalcanal. A barbecue follows and the public is welcome to attend.
Benicia veterans groups and three auxiliaries use a portion of the hall for regular meetings. Those groups include Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3928, American Legion Post 101, plus local chapters of the VFW Auxiliary, American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of American Legion. Currently, about 500 Benicia veterans belong to these groups, including several World War II veterans, all of whom are now in their 90s, local veterans said. Benicia veterans also fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Gulf War and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Solano County has an estimated 40,000 veterans. Meanwhile, the upstairs portions of the hall can be rented out for weddings, parties and other functions. Any veteran can attend patriotic holiday programs or go in and get information about local vet groups.
L to R: Dave Sweet, Mike Garrity,
L to R: Norm Leah, Kevin Brock,
The Benicia Vets’ Hall is not a Veterans’ Administration building and is not a place for veterans to apply for and receive services. However, some veterans can get help with forms and information on where to go for help, said Ted Puntillo, county Director of Veteran’s Services. Occasionally, Puntillo will show up there himself to help, but he mainly works out of the Fairfield office, which assists more than 50 veterans per day. Veterans of current wars have a big need for housing, education, health care and employment. Older veterans, at times, also seek help. Puntilllo said some don’t realize they need help with stress and depression until after they have retired and they have more time on their hands.
A part of Benicia’s fabric since the late 1940s, the building is owned by Solano County. By law each county must provide dedicated veterans’ memorial halls. However, local veteran’s groups are responsible for paying utilities and maintaining the building. Hall rental helps raise money for ongoing maintenance and bills. A large renovation completed in March of 2013 upgraded the building considerably. The project cost $2,347,000, and funds came from three primary sources, including $147,000 in federal funds and $2.2 million from the county’s general fund and county property tax increments. Hall improvements consisted of foundation waterproofing, drainage work and electrical upgrades. The building also got an elevator to make it accessible to the handicapped, plus new walkways, bathrooms, stairs, a heating and cooling system, lighting, windows, cabinetry, and various interior and exterior finishes. Most recently, outdoor white lights were strung in the trees, beautifying the building and the street. The remaining items that predated the renovations tie the building to its proud past: an antique canon dating back to the Spanish American War and a monument of mosaic memorials to honor veterans of World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and all other wars. Puntillo said the vet’s hall is a symbol of remembrance, a sign of community recognition and a source of pride for veterans.