This article was originally published in The Mercury News.
Civic groups and businesses across the Peninsula found creative ways to honor past and active duty military this week in recognition of Veterans Day.
Kaiser Permanente Redwood City handed out challenge coins to about 100 veterans on Thursday at the first annual San Mateo County Veteran of the Year luncheon. Challenge coins are medallions typically emblazoned with a unit’s insignia and handed out by military commanders for special achievement.
Volunteers with Canopy, a Palo Alto-based urban forestry nonprofit, worked with veterans to plant 19 trees at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System facility in Menlo Park to start the day Friday.
Cities like Palo Alto, which had a recognition event on Monday in conjunction with East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View, gave veterans the opportunity to share their history with the public.
Art Adams, sworn in to the Army 78th Infantry at age 18, was held as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II. He talked about escaping from camp only to be captured again.
U.S. Navy veteran and Oakland native Mickey Ganitch described his harrowing experience aboard USS Pennsylvania the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.
“We had eight battleships in Hawaii and we thought no one would attack us, but they tried to take everything out,” Ganitch said.
Ganitch’s remarks were illustrated by a series of photos, including one of his ship next to a burning USS Arizona and another of Navy men cutting holes in sinking ships to save fellow servicemen.
Palo Alto Fire Chief Eric Nickel thanked Adams, Ganitch and an audience full of veterans who answered the call of duty, not because they necessarily wanted to fight, but because they were called to “something bigger than themselves.”
At the same event, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Rex McMillian, the keynote speaker, handed out special pins honoring Vietnam veterans.
Companies like Facebook, Palantir and LinkedIn were at the event to recruit veterans looking for work and other booths shared resources to help veterans access housing and health care.
It was veteran recruitment programs like these that helped Kevin Filer, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, transition from active duty to civilian life.
Filer was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served as an active duty officer for seven years, eventually earning an MBA.
He was drawn to Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, where he now works as a relationship manager in Palo Alto, because the company is known for being committed to veterans.
“I was trying to pursue a sense of purpose, which every veteran wants to continue after service,” Filer said. “The bank is an organization where you can continue that sense of purpose.”
Bank of America’s Military Support and Assistance Group provided Filer with mentors and helped plug him into a network that provided advice and training so he could be successful in his new career.
Filer also participated in the bank’s MBA Rotational Program, which exposes employees to different roles within the company to test out different jobs and find the best fit.
The bank also offers its employees two hours a week paid to encourage time volunteering, anywhere from a homeless shelter to a startup that incubates veterans starting their own business, Filer said.
“I’m really lucky that my employer helps people who answer the call and I can translate my passion into a new career,” Filer said. “The desire to help people doesn’t leave you.”