Veterans Day service held at the Marin Civic Center reminds attendants of the day’s significance

Martha Fishburne

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On the morning of Nov. 11, the Marin Civic Center bustled with activity and excitement as veterans and Marin County residents of all ages came to honor those who served in the US military. 

To many veterans, including Sean Stephens, the Veterans Service Officer for Marin and the planner of the event, Veterans Day is a time to remember those they lost and be grateful for those who were able to come home. 

“Veterans Day means it’s a day to reflect. To be thankful for being here, for having a wife, three kids and being able to be involved in their lives and separate what happened in Afghanistan,” Stephens said. “This is such an amazing opportunity and it’s meant to celebrate ourselves [and] being a veteran.”

Military vehicles were on display courtesy of Joe Garabino.

The Marin Civic Center’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium hosts both a Veterans Day and Memorial Day service every year. The Veterans Day ceremony consisted of music and speeches, many of which followed the theme of American pride. Presenters ranged from boy scouts to biker groups, ending with the Retirement of Colors. Afterwards, guests were encouraged to attend the barbeque and mingle. 

Although the event has always included a wreath ceremony, Stephens added the outside barbeque following the ceremony to help veterans connect with others in their community. 

“I wanted veterans to have something that was simple and down-home [where veterans] could talk and communicate with each other, learn who the other veterans are in the community and if somebody is starting to have a little bit of a problem or issue where they’re feeling alone, they know they can lean on another veteran,” Stephens said. 

This event is personal for Stephens, an Afghanistan War veteran, who had spent a total of three years there on four different tours. The effects of his service continue to have an impact on him, as do the stories he hears in his work helping other veterans.

“I worked with a lot of veterans who bring in a lot of baggage and it’s hard to walk out of the office at the end of the day and separate my own personal stuff. [I’ve worked with] veterans who are thinking about suicide, veterans who are going through separations or divorces [or] having problems with their children. I get to hear the ugly stuff about family fights. So, I do wear a lot of [burdens at] home,” Stephens said. 

Bagpipe music accompanied the Presentation of Colors.

Stephens was not the only one to feel the lasting effects of service. Ryan Sobel served in the United States military from 2004 to 2009, however, he was injured on duty, changing life as he knew it forever. Even though he retired a decade ago, he still finds the transition difficult. 

“I was hit by a roadside bomb in 2007 and received a Purple Heart in 2007. The last 12 years have been nothing but hospitals and surgeries, procedures and therapy. It’s been a struggle—trying to reintegrate back into society,” Sobel said.

Sobel’s family has a history of military service, including his grandfather, William Crozier, who fought in World War II as a member of the Merchant Marines and also attended the Veterans Day ceremony. Crozier recalled the time he was most afraid for his life when he and his team were stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of a storm. 

97-year-old William Crozier next to the wreath he presented to honor the Merchant Marines.

“Well, we lost one boat, one lifeboat with 26 men in it, and this big storm came and that lifeboat capsized. The boat that I was in had more experienced people and we survived the storm,” Crozier said. “If you saw the ‘Perfect Storm,’ the movie, that’s the kind of sea conditions that we were in, in a fifty-foot boat.”

Although the trauma of service often can have lifelong impacts, Sobel also remarked that many veterans do not expect any special privileges, only a simple thanks. 

“Service members and active duty or veterans don’t really ask for a lot. Our hearts are always in it, that’s why we signed up. We signed a blank check for the government with our lives. And we really never asked for anything in return. That simple ‘thank you’ is something that goes a long way,” Sobel said.

Novato’s VFW Post 7816 is assisted by members of the Rip City Riders in raising the flags.

Stephens added that a good place to start showing gratitude for veterans is by looking back to find family connections to the military. 

“What you need to do is look within your own family and a lot of you will find out that your grandparents probably served in the military and make sure you tell them thank you. Find out how they’re doing and start there so you can build on that,” Stephens said.