The groundbreaking ceremony for the veterans care home on Knighton Road in Redding attracted a crowd of more than 500 people, many of them military veterans, on Friday morning.
The theme of the day may well have been “finally,” as the facility has been talked about since state voters approved a bond for construction of new veterans homes in 2000.
“This is certainly a great day, a day I thought I would never see,” conceded Don Mangrum, former Shasta County veterans service officer. Mangrum and others credited the persistence of Redding’s Maurice Johannessen, the former state senator and secretary of California Department of Veterans Affairs, for getting the project to the shovel-ready stage. The crowd recognized Johannessen’s role by offering him and the Thomasen family, which donated the 26-acre site for the home, the biggest cheers of the day.
With rain threatening and a long list of speakers on the stage, Johannessen kept his remarks rather short. He recalled that the idea of a veterans home in Redding was already percolating when he was first elected to the state Senate in 1993, and he thanked numerous people who advocated for the project over the years.
“I love you,” an emotional Johannessen said to the veterans in the audience.
“We love you, too,” was the response from more than a few.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that construction of a new veterans home has been one of his administration’s top priorities. Despite a state budget deficit that has again reached $20 billion, Schwarzenegger vowed, “We will never stop building the veterans homes.”
Schwarzenegger said he was in attendance Friday not only as the governor, but as an immigrant to the United States.
“I know I would not have been able to come over here to the land of freedom and opportunity without all that you have done,” he told the gathered veterans. “Thank you, as an immigrant.”
Medal of Honor recipient Retired Maj. James A. Taylor, who lives in Trinity Center, used the keynote address to encourage support for veterans and services they need, including better Veterans Affairs medical facilities in Redding.
“There are thousands of veterans returning home, and they are going to need our assistance,” Taylor said. “When they return home, greet them, thank them and support them.”
Raindrops fell during the ceremonial shoveling of dirt, but they did not dampen the spirit of the flag-draped event.
Construction of the 155,000-square-foot veterans home is scheduled to take about two years. When complete, the $88-million, state-operated facility will provide residences to 150 senior and disabled military veterans.