Monday, June 18 , 2018, 11:22 am | Fair 65º


Santa Barbara Veterans the Guests of Honor at 16th Annual Military Ball

Veterans Day weekend culminates with event at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort

A special Veteran’s Day weekend celebration that began with a parade down State Street and a concert at the Courtyard Sunken Garden was proudly commemorated for more than 700 retired and active military personnel and guests at the 16th Annual 2011 Military Ball held Nov. 12 at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, was among a group of more than 50 military personnel, veterans and loved ones at an intimate VIP reception held in Fess Parker’s Fiesta Room before the main festivities.

Capps, wearing a striking sky blue silk suit, said the elegant occasion wouldn’t be possible without founder Pierre Claeyssens, whose generosity and lifelong commitment to the military and Santa Barbara emerged after an American G.I. saved Claeyssen’s life during his stint in the Belgian army during World War I.

“Pierre’s philanthropy came to this community and enabled this Military Ball,” Capps said. “And John and Hazel Blankenship have carried on his legacy, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

John and Hazel Blankenship produced the theme of this year’s ball “Dedicated to the Greatest Generation and All Veterans” in association with the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans’ Museum & Library and the Santa Barbara Navy League.

Guests entered the Grand Ballroom, taking seats at tables decorated with red flowers and American flags to enjoy a three-course dinner by Fess Parker’s talented culinary staff of Catering Director Kathy Ackley, Executive Chef Kirk Delong and Executive Sous Chef Jacob Prelas.

The program began with the traditional posting of the Colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and a rousing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” followed by an emotional invocation from the Rev. Charles Griffin.

After the Retirement of the Colors, there was a dedication by the USS Milius for the Missing Man that brought a moment of silence and reflection from the large crowd.

U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Fred Lopez then read a letter to the crowd from the Commandant and a Salute to the Services preceded the evening’s guest speaker, Capt. Michael Argos.

Argos, a recently retired Navy captain and SEAL, spoke proudly of the defeat of Osama bin Laden and used the moment to challenge the audience to 20 push-ups.

“The reason behind the push-ups is when you go through SEAL training the instructors use it as a motivator,” Argos said. “I’m a leader, and if you are a leader you lead from the front and everybody will follow you. Plus, the push-ups bring energy and spirit to the room and it gets the crowd riled up.”

Next, the Greatest Generation Award was presented to Silvio Di Loreto, whose family has served in four branches of the armed forces and four wars. Di Loreto himself served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

After WWII, Di Loreto settled in Santa Barbara and ran Sunset Company Realtors for more than 40 years and served on the boards of more than 20 nonprofit organizations, receiving numerous community awards. Today, Di Loreto enjoys traveling with his companion, Mary MacDonald, and continues to support the community.

Later, as the local community has graciously done during these past few months, there was continued recognition for the family of Navy SEAL Master Chief Petty Officer Louis Langlais.

Taliban militants killed Langlais, a Santa Barbara local, in action on Aug. 6 when a helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan killing 30 Americans. His wife received kind words of support and encouragement from all in attendance as she graced the crowd in a beautiful navy blue gown.

During a VIP reception that was held before the Ball, Langlais’ wife was presented the National Memorial Award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Headquarters by Command Sgt. Major Retired Jonathon Church, who served with the U.S. Army 425th Civil Affairs Battalion. She was also presented a 425th Civil Affairs Battalion Rotation Coin that represents the military units serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We have collected quite a bit of coins throughout the years,” Church said. “The 425th Rotation Coin represents our time down range in Iraq and Afghanistan and we wanted to honor her with the coin.”

“Lou was an incredible man and an incredible SEAL, father and husband,” Langlais said. “It’s just an honor to be here and the recognition he’s receiving tonight is amazing.”

Guests were invited to share their support with donations to the Lou Langlais Memorial Fund, and the crowd was deeply touched by Langlais’ words shared from a video message to his family that were read aloud by Peter Bie.

In 1995, philanthropist Claeyssens began the Military Ball in order to pay tribute to both past and present U.S. armed forces in the Santa Barbara area. After his death in 2003, the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Museum and Library maintained the Military Ball as an important and ongoing source of support for veterans in the community.

And, with a generous gift of $1 million from Claeyssens, the PCVML Foundation was founded in 2003 by John Blankenship who together with his wife Hazel worked with the Executive and Advisory Boards to honor Claeyssens’ pledge that all veterans will never be forgotten.

The dedication of the Blankenship’s and the PCVML Foundation will result in a museum to be built in Santa Barbara to preserve the history of the United States during the wars of the 20th century and honor the courage that many men and women from the Central Coast.

“This is very meaningful for our community to come together and thank our veterans but our commitment has to be for more than one day,” Capps said. “We owe the veterans and soldiers serving abroad a lifetime of our commitment to them. Tonight’s a night to celebrate, but the work continues.”

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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