Vets Memorial Building stands proud at 75

Seventy-five years after the dedication of the Veterans Memorial Building at San Benito and Seventh streets, the City of Hollister owns the building and is giving it a facelift.

Thousands of people gathered along San Benito Street craning
their necks expectantly, with some peering from the upstairs
windows of offices and homes.
Thousands of people gathered along San Benito Street craning their necks expectantly, with some peering from the upstairs windows of offices and homes.

Then an expectant hush grew until someone shouted “Here they come!” As if in answer, a distant ruffle of drums was heard and people standing in the street rolled back like a wave receding.

“I hadn’t seen anything like it since the Armistice,” Charlie Turner recalled more than 45 years later. “It was like the Red Sea opening up.”

Within minutes mounted soldiers of the 11th Cavalry rode smartly by, resplendent in crisp uniforms and highly polished leather belts. The cheers broke again as a band marched by playing “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” and continued as the Boy Scouts with colors flying marched along.

Finally, after many other units and floats were cheered along the passage from Nash Road and disbanded by a newly completed building on Seventh Street, and people in the crowd called out names of parade participants, Frank C. Sparling took the speaker’s stand.

Sparling was well known to most of the local residents and had served as a commander of American Legion Post 69. He was aware of the honor for which he had been chosen and had resolved to discharge his responsibility well.

He stood for a moment, scanning the sea of faces upturned toward him in that mid-afternoon of Nov. 11, 1927 – 75 years ago today – and made a few appropriate comments about the local men who had served in the global war that had ended exactly nine years before.

Sparling partially turned to the building looming behind him, threw out his arm and said, “And so, ladies and gentlemen, the Veterans Memorial Building is yours, now and forever, and may you and your children and their children enjoy it in a long and enduring peace.”

The applause broke out again and Sparling returned to the row of seats with other officials nodding their approval as he passed.

Mrs. John P. Coghlan, who had sung “There’s a Long, Long Trail Winding” at the morning’s ceremonies following the opening address by Post Commander Herbert Sutton, rendered “Madelon,” a song beloved of the American soldiers in France.

Then it was the turn of the speaker of the day, Major C.E. Claggett of the U.S. Air Service. He spoke of the significance of the war and why its successful conclusion meant the end of all great conflicts.

He cited San Benito County’s role in that war, of the 400 men from the county who had served, including 16 who had died and the 30 who had been wounded.

Claggett spoke of the Gold Star Mothers, women whose sons had died in Europe, and many women of the audience dabbed at their eyes. He also spoke of the “peacetime memorial of a war filled with sacrifices” and asked that the audience never forget the significance of that war and that peace.

Then Thomas E. O’Donnell stood and sang “My Own United States.” At the morning ceremonies he had sung “The Americans Come!” following past commander Alton E. Kile laying the cornerstone of the building, and just before the minute of silence at 11 a.m., as had been the custom every Nov. 11 since 1919 to mark the exact hour when the war ceased.

Many in the crowd went to the ballpark to see the 11th Cavalry maneuver and the Legion-sponsored Boy Scouts drill. But many returned to the building that night for the first of the thousands of dances that have been held there.

When the last dance had ended and the crowd was leaving, many turned back to look at San Benito County’s latest acquisition gleaming in the moonlight.

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