BY STEVEN MAYER [email protected]
Even Houchin Community Blood Bank CEO Brad Bryan hadn’t seen it before Saturday.
But he and dozens of guests were clearly pleased as the newly created Veterans Wall of Honor was unveiled to applause — two days before Veterans Day — at Houchin’s Bolthouse Donor Center in southwest Bakersfield.
“A month ago we had essentially a blank wall there,” Bryan told the crowd gathered in the center’s lobby. But as employees carefully removed a sheet of plastic covering the wall, two folded American flags encased behind glass were revealed, along with the seals of the five branches of the U.S. military, and large replicas of military campaign ribbons representing recent armed conflicts. At the top, the words “service” and “sacrifice,” and a red drop of blood, placed it all in context.
“The theme of our Veterans Wall of Honor is service and sacrifice to our community,” Bryan said. “I hope we all take a moment to thank our military service members and veterans for their service and sacrifice this Veterans Day.”
But Bryan also tied service to one’s nation to service to one’s community, noting that a significant number of current and former military members continue “that lineage of service and sacrifice by donating blood and saving the lives of those in our community.”
U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Joyce Starr, a Bakersfield resident, was there in uniform. She said she views the act of donating blood as entirely consistent with military service.
“Any time we have that inner feeling to help others, that’s a good thing,” said Starr, who trains soldiers to become combat medics. “Donating blood is about saving lives. I got into the military to help people, to save lives.”
Kim Lewis painted the Wall of Honor. As a mom with three sons who are serving — one in the U.S. Air Force and her twins in the Coast Guard — the job came naturally to her.
But it wasn’t without its difficulties.
“There was no room for error,” Lewis said of her desire to be perfectly accurate in painting the enlarged U.S. military campaign ribbons. One, she said, represents the Korean War, another, Vietnam. Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq are also represented.
The wall was designed by Houchin staff who have previously served in the military.
All military personnel, both past and present, who donate blood between now and Nov. 16 will receive a commemorative military challenge coin for their service.
U.S. Navy veteran Charles Hinson was there with his wife, Laura Hinson. Both are donors, and each one approved of the newly dedicated wall.
“It reminds us to keep giving,” said Charles Hinson, who in his lifetime has donated 11 gallons of whole blood and 200 units of platelets.
“Donating allows me to serve my community by coming out and providing platelets and plasma for cancer patients.”
Although donors of blood and blood products rarely know who they helped or whose lives were saved, once a year, the Hinsons attend a dinner in honor of donors. There they often hear from guest speakers who tell the story of how their lives were saved by some anonymous blood donor.
“It’s really touching to hear those stories,” said Laura Hinson.
Then, placing her hand over her heart, she continued.
“It gets you right here.”