Before COVID: Celebrating Vets with Military Ball - South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)
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South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)

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Before COVID: Celebrating Vets with Military Ball

Two men are sitting and listening to the orchetra perform at the Third Annual Military Ball

Two men are sitting and listening to the orchestra perform at the Third Annual Military Ball. 30 Veterans and CLC residents attended the event with family members. (VA Photos: Steven Goetsch)

By Steven Goetsch
Thursday, July 1, 2021

Before COVID-19 hit, the staff at the Audie L. Murphy Community Living Center started a tradition of honoring the residents with a military-style ball complete with all of the pomp and circumstance of the ceremonies they had taken part of, and for some, decades ago. This is a lookback at the last event that was held in late 2019.

What began as a long tradition in the British Armed Forces, and adopted by Americans for military ceremonies, crossing under arched sabers was a way to honor attendees at public events.

That is what greeted the 30 residents and their guests of the South Texas VA Community Living Center (CLC) in San Antonio at their annual Veterans Day Military Ball, November 9.

The residents, many in wheelchairs were announced to attendees, along with their branch of service, escorted by family members and walked and rolled proudly beneath the stainless-steel blades, called to order by their ROTC commander.

Some Veterans had ear-to-ear grins while others were a bit overwhelmed at the elegant ballroom, an auditorium transformed with patriotic regalia, a symphony and inviting cuisine.

A man is standing at the lectern speaking on a microphone

Christopher Sandles, South Texas Veterans Health Care System Director/CEO, speaks to a full house at the Third Annual Military Ball. He praised the Community Living Center staff for putting on such a fantastic event year after year.

Once everyone was seated, they were welcomed by Jennifer Gardner, an Army Veteran herself, and talked about the significance of the event, and what it means to her and the CLC staff.

“Thank you to the Veterans and the families for trusting us with our care,” Gardner said. “We in the CLC are honored to serve you and consider it a privilege to be included in your care.”

Appropriately on Veterans Day weekend, she told the audience how the CLC staff honors their Veterans, not just on the holiday, but every day.

“When you walk through the door, no matter which entrance you use, you are treated with the utmost dignity and respect,” Gardner said, her voice breaking a bit with emotion.

Following Jennifer Gardner, the South Texas Veterans Health Care System Director and CEO, Christopher R. Sandles, opened his remarks talking about the dedication of the CLC staff.

“I want to thank our community living center committee and the leadership in our CLC, Jennifer Gardner, serving as master of ceremonies tonight,” Sandles said. “Honestly, I think she understates the level of passion that I feel not just from her, but our other leaders in our community living center and the Geriatrics and Extended Care Service.” 

“I’ve been with this health care system now for seven months and I understand why it is the best in the nation,” Sandles said. “I have some very good people here.”


A man sits in a wheelchair after finishing his dinner

The CLC staff transformed the ALM Auditorium into a Military Ball with all of the pomp and circumstance such a nostalgic and honorable event commands. They even make customized service tags for each Veteran so they can represent their service again.

That sentiment was echoed by the Veterans and their families in attendance.

Sandles went on to talk about the historical significance of Veterans Day; its tie to the end of World War I, the change from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954 to the way celebrations have evolved across the country.

Sandles went on to say one of the ways Veterans Affairs and specifically South Texas can honor Veterans is to provide them the best services possible.

“VA is dramatically transforming the best care for those who have served,” he said. “They deserve our best efforts in all we do for their service and sacrifice,” Sandles said.

After the speakers concluded, several community groups who generously donated their time were recognized. That segued into a toast to Veterans and their families.

The toast also set into motion, the choreographed production and presentation of almost 120 meals, undertaken by the South Texas Nutrition and Food Service. This bevy of activity was completed in short order.

The meal prepared for the Veterans was nothing short of spectacular; steak, chicken cordon bleu, asparagus and a garlic cheddar mash headlined the menu.

Followed by several tempting desserts, the room had a hush come over it as everyone enjoyed the fruits and mousses of their labor.

The entertainment for the evening was the Taft High School Orchestra who played patriotic songs, including the Armed Forces Service Medley

Taking a pause, the orchestra director personally thanked attendees. “I would just like to say to all of our Veterans here, thank you for all that you do so that our children can study music instead of going to fight,” said Robert Jones, Taft High School Head Orchestra Director.

A quick transformation of tables and chairs created a spontaneous dance floor. Several Veterans and their guests danced to hits from their service era.

The evening was capped off with Veterans and their parties creating mementos of the night at the selfie station. This is the third year the staff have hosted the military ball for their residents.


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