Every Veterans Day, a group of former military service members gathers at St. Patrick’s Church, and then marches along Main Street through downtown Watsonville.
The march is relatively short; it is just under a mile to the Henry J. Mello Center, where the annual Veterans Day ceremony will be held this year.
But for many of the participants, it is part of a journey they began years earlier when, as young people, they either joined or were drafted into the U.S. armed forces.
These journeys included countless assignments both stateside and in places around the world, but all had one thing in common: they were life-changing experiences that left indelible marks on the veterans.
Watsonville’s Veterans Day ceremony is marked each year with the announcement of two veterans of the year, one from American Legion Post 121 and the other from VFW Post 1716.
This year’s event is also highlighted by keynote speaker Leon Panetta, who served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from February 2009 to June 2011 and as U.S. Secretary of Defense from July 2011 to February 2013.
VFW Post 1716
Richard Squire was drafted into the U.S. Army in November 1967, and served with the 4th infantry unit in Vietnam.
Originally from Southern California, Squire did basic training at Fort Ord, where he decided to make the area his home.
“We were doing calisthenics and looking over the Monterey Bay and I thought, ‘man, this is where I’d like to come to live,’” he said. “I’ve been here for 50 years.”
Squire trained for the Signal Corps as a radio operator, and after basic was over he was sent to Fort Eisenhower in Georgia—formerly known as Fort Gordon—the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Assigned to provide riot control, he says what he saw there shocked him and his fellow soldiers.
“We were California boys,” he said. “We didn’t know anything about that kind of racism. But it was alive and well there.”
Squire was then sent to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam on July 21, 1969.
There, he did three months in the Division Tactical Operations Center as chief radio operator, where he helped map out troops and resources for the entire Area of Operations for the 4th infantry, working 12-hour overnight shifts seven days a week.
He was also called into combat occasionally, as were most of the service members, he said.
Squire got out on July 21, 1969, landing on the mainland on the same day another momentous occasion occurred.
“The day we landed was the day we landed on the moon,” Squire said.
After his return, Squire said he bummed around with his dog for about a year, then became a respiratory therapist at WCH until 1978.
He then made a career in the new Silicon Valley tech industry, retiring in 2002.
After a while, his wife told him he needed to get a job, jokingly telling him to buy a hotdog cart.
But he took the idea seriously, and thus began a fourth career as a hot dog vendor, working farmers markets and city events.
He would later go to open a cafe at Fort Ord, and then did farmers markets and city events. He went on to open California Guard Dogs and B.B.Q. at Camp Roberts, a National Guard post in San Miguel.
Squire has retired, but his son-in-law still runs the business.
Looking back on his service, Squire remembers coming home to a changed world, and realized he was the one who had been changed.
He said he noticed his military experience had profoundly changed him, and he noticed a sharp contrast among his old friends.
“It was like nothing had ever changed in their lives,” he said. “I was completely different. Everybody was still going to parties and yukking it up, and I just wanted to be alone.
“Nobody goes into a conflict like that and comes back the same person,” he added. “It’s not possible.”
Still, Squire said he has no regrets about his time in the U.S. Army.
“In retrospect, it was an honor for me to do it,” he said.
“When people come up to me and say ‘thank you for your service,’ and a lot of young kids do now, it makes me feel good, and I always tell them ‘it was my honor,’” he said.
American Legion Post 121
David Trevino, who died in September 2022, began his military career serving with the National Guard in Freedom. He later enlisted in the U.S. Army, and was deployed to Erlangen, Germany, where he worked as a tanker.
He received several commendations, and was honorably discharged in 1976.
He then attended college and earned a master’s degree in education and psychology. He worked as the director of Cabrillo College’s Extended Opportunity Program Services, which provides counseling, academic and financial support to low-income students.
Trevino’s widow Roseanna Trevino declined a request for an interview.
In his obituary, his family said that “helping the economically disadvantaged was his life mission.”
“He did this by teaching, counseling and as director of the EOPS program at Cabrillo College,” the obituary said. “Music was his passion. His knowledge of music history, songs and performers was amazing.”
The annual Veterans Day march will begin at 10am on Nov. 11 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish at 721 Main St., and head down Main Street to East Lake Avenue. The ceremony starts at 11:11am at the Mello Center at 250 E. Beach St.
A free lunch for veterans, their families and supporters will take place afterward at Applebee’s restaurant at 1105 S. Green Valley Road.