BARSTOW – They arrived in buses. They formed columns. They marched.
For 23 years, soldiers from Fort Irwin have made the 38-mile trip to visit and listen to the stories told by the veterans who live at the Veterans Home of California-Barstow.
Their shared meal and experiences at the Home atop the hill drew a big crowd on Thursday for the annual event that began in 1996. About 1,000 people, including the veterans, soldiers, Home staff, local politicians and townsfolk, congregated. Speeches, presentations, and camaraderie owned the day.
But before that could happen, part of the tradition the folks waiting up on the hill didn’t see took place. Around 9 a.m., the Blackhorse Regiment’s mounted patrol arrived with bedrolls behind their saddles, rifles in their scabbards, and began working their horses while preparing for their lead role. Some bore Old Glory, unit, and regimental flags.
Then, a trail of buses rolled down the street and into the parking area across from Barstow’s beloved Harvey House train station. Soldier after soldier stepped off the buses and fell into a formation of three columns in the parking lot.
“About 600 soldiers in all,” said Captain Caleb M. Beasley, Fort Irwin’s public affairs officer. “About 300 will stay at the Veterans Home. The others will go back (to Fort Irwin).”
They waited – at ease – for comrades who ran the final leg of a relay all the way from Fort Irwin to arrive. The first came in about 9: 30 a.m., with soldiers shouting encouragement and congratulations. Eight more eventually followed, each accompanied by a van carrying the relay teammates and a medic’s vehicle.
Promptly at 10 a.m., they were called to attention. Behind the mounted cavalry, the first unit strode out, then the second, then the third until the three columns became one and marched down the street, over the bridge, out of sight, and up the hill to the Veterans Home.
Minutes later, the final runner arrived – with none of the fanfare but all of the support of his relay teammates who waited for him. Sore and tired, they rode back to Fort Irwin in a caravan. No man left behind.
Another year in the books, another year of tradition upheld.