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Women Linked By Military Service Help Honor Veterans in Santa Maria

A local attorney marks his 14th year serving free lunch to hundreds of former military members and their families

[Click here for a related story on Veterans Day festivities at El Presidio.]

Sitting side by side on Tuesday, Lt. Marian Marrinan and Col. Shahnaz Punjani were united by their military service for the nation, although in decidedly different eras and roles.

Seventy years ago, Marrinan was an Army nurse during World War II. Today, Punjani leads the 30th Launch Group at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The two women were among the veterans who participated in one of several ceremonies held Tuesday to mark Veterans Day in the Santa Maria Valley. Some 100 people attended the ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery.

“Today, we celebrate the men and women who served our nation, and those who have continued to serve,” Punjani said. “We celebrate the oath they, and we, have sworn, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

About 16.1 million Americans — including her grandparents — served during World War II, she said. 

“They served because the alternative was unacceptable,” she added.

Marrinan, 93, spent time in the Army Nurses Corps during World War II. She still fits into her military uniform, although her hat is too big and slips down onto her nose so she skipped the head wear on Tuesday.

“The colonel has given me permission to do anything I want today, so I’m not wearing a hat,” Marrinan said.

She volunteered three times, and finally was picked to go overseas, where she worked in a field hospital in France amid rugged conditions.

“Nurses served valiantly during World War II, and helped provide the U.S. Army with valuable lessons on battlefield medical care,” she said, adding that civilian nurses at the time couldn’t start IVs, remove sutures or change bandages.

Tom Knott leads the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2521 Honor Guard carrying the flags during the Veterans Day ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery on Tuesday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Young and scared, just like the GIs, around them, the nurses did their duty and, by so doing, helped in a new area of battlefield care for American armed forces personnel that would help define all subsequent hospitals and save untold numbers of lives during World War II and later wars.”

She met her husband, who served in the infantry, after the war.

“We never talked about the war,” she said. “I don’t think you find soldiers talk about the war. Maybe to each other.  It’s just not something you think about.”

Marrinan recently volunteered at the Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down, but said she typically declines speaking engagements such as Tuesday’s.

“Since Santa Maria has done so much for the veterans, I decided the least I could do is come thank you all personally,” she said. 

Americans later served in conflict in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere overseas. New threats and humanitarian missions will continue to require deployments of airmen from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Punjani added.

Throughout the years, the Central Coast has supported and embraced the military personnel and their families stationed at Vandenberg.

And many of those former military members made their homes on the Central Coast, becoming homeowners, business people and elected officials.

“However, some never found their footing and continue to suffer unseen wounds that prevent them from returning to productive lives,” Punjani said. “Today, one out every four homeless persons is a veteran of our armed forces.”

Some veterans suffer from undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries or other little-known ailments.

“Many have been forgotten by the system and are difficult to reach with much-needed help,” she said, adding that veterans’ organizations and agencies can help these men and women get the assistance.

She encouraged local residents to continue to support organizations that honor the troops.

A large number of veterans turned out at the Santa Maria Veterans Memorial Community Center on Tuesday for a lunch sponsored by Santa Maria attorney Michael Clayton. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“For those veterans with us today, thank you for your service, your dedication, your sacrifices, the sacrifices of your families,” Punjani said. "It is because of you I was able to utter that solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

"It is because of you I had the privilege to join the ranks of our military. It is upon your shoulders I stand.”

During the event, Michael Stadnick Jr., master of ceremonies, presented several certificates of appreciation, including to retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Larry Hill, a bugler who played taps.

The ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery was one of many held in northern Santa Barbara County to commemorate the service of veterans. Other ceremonies were held in Orcutt, Solvang, Lompoc and  Guadalupe.

At the Santa Maria Veterans Memorial Community Center, attorney Michael Clayton and his wife, Lourdes, marked their 14th year serving free lunches to veterans and their families, expecting to serve approximately 2,000 people or more.

“It’s just grown every year,” Clayton said. “Every year it just goes up by 500.”

Before lunch, a short parade and ceremony occurred in front of the building. 

“We want to say thank you to the vets,” Clayton said. 

Countless volunteers help make the event happen each year, the Claytons added.

Santa Maria resident Bill Baldiviez, who served in the Army from 1955 to 1959, was among the hundreds who showed up for lunch.

“This is pretty good,” he said.

Bill Hubbard, who served in the Air Force and is a veteran of the Vietnam War, also attended.

“I think it’s great,” he added. "It’s real special."

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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