More than a hundred former members of the military played their way through the Valencia Country Club golf course Monday as part of the 2021 “Thank a Veteran” golf event.
This year featured 136 golfers — 103 of whom are veterans playing for free — and was considered a return to the annual Santa Clarita Valley tradition after last year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19.
Every year, the program is designed, according to the event founder and chairwoman Nancy Butler, to give veterans an opportunity to enjoy a free round of golf while also raising funds for local nonprofits geared toward assisting those who have previously served in the armed forces.
“It means quite a bit,” said Bill Zeko, a Vietnam veteran golfer, when asked what he thinks an event like Monday’s means for local veterans. “There’s a lot of memories, and we can support one another, encourage one another.”
In the event, as it has been organized in years past, the golfers are divided into subgroups that play the course together, often mixing and matching friends with those who came alone. While the veterans are not asked to pay for anything during the day, even receiving drinks and snacks along the way throughout the day, the non-veterans paid a set fee, Butler said.
Butler announced that the 2019 event had resulted in donations being made to both the William J. Pete Knight Veterans Home in Lancaster as well as the Blue Star Mothers of Santa Clarita chapter. Although the final list of recipients for this year’s generated funds has not yet been decided, at least one of the organizations will be The Battle Buddy Foundation.
During this year’s event, those in attendance had the opportunity to bid on gift baskets and participate in raffles, the prizes of which were donated by local businesses and organizations. Participants were treated to a boxed lunch while on the course, and the event was capped off with another catered meal and prizes awarded to winning teams.
However, when asked what he thought the most important part of the event was, Lynn Helvig, a military veteran as well as member of the event’s board, said it was not the golf or prizes, but the camaraderie shared among those in attendance.
“A lot of people get together to have a good time and some of these people have been around since the beginning,” said Helvig, referencing the near decade-long run the event has had. “I met an old shipmate of mine here … I think everybody deserves a good time of reflection. That’s kind of what this is about.”
Before the convoy of golfers heads out, each year one particular veteran is recognized for their service. This year, county Supervisor Kathryn Barger honored Navy veteran Ken Hasler, who served in the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion during the Vietnam War.
Hasler was presented with a flag that was flown over Washington, D.C., in his honor as well as a proclamation from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors that Barger said represented the “thanks of 10 million L.A. County residents who thank you for your service and for everything you’ve done on behalf of the citizens.”
The former “Navy Seabee,” as members of the Construction Battalion are colloquially known, dedicated the recognition to the other members of his team who helped build bridges, hospitals, roads and water systems in the war-affected regions of Vietnam during the war. He said many Vietnam veterans at the time came home to hostile welcomes, and saw Monday’s event as the opposite of those receptions decades ago.
“I worry that it will get back to the indifference that we had when we got back from Vietnam, but this is wonderful,” said Hasler, who added he was shocked when his name was called by Barger at the event. “It means a lot.”