Regatta offers rare outing for institutionalized vets

Regatta offers rare outing for institutionalized vets

Dave Boitano

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John Stokes is 87 now, but he clearly remembers his service during World War II. During the bloody battle of Okinawa off Japan, Stokes and the rest of a gun detachment assigned to an ammunition ship survived 32 air attacks by Japanese planes and shot down two of them.

“We were pretty busy,” said Stokes, who was wearing a green polo shirt emblazoned with the name “S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien,” a reference to his days as part of a U.S. Navy gun crew fending off Japanese air attacks on Liberty Ships like the O’Brien.

On Saturday, Stokes stood on the dock of the Encinal Yacht Club to assist hundreds of other veterans who were there for a much quieter afternoon on San Francisco Bay. Stokes was one of 300 volunteers who took part in the 16th annual Margot Brown Wheelchair Regatta, an outing for aged vets who are disabled and living in Northern California Veterans Administration hospitals.

Stokes belongs to the San Leandro Post of the Veterans of Foreign wars. The regatta is a chance for him to help his former comrades in arms take a cruise around the Bay and enjoy a barbecue lunch on their return, he said.

Like every aspect of the event, the boat rides were conducted by volunteers; in this case power boat owners and other yachting enthusiasts associated with the Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association, a grouping of 100 Northern California yacht clubs. There were plenty of other willing workers on hand including the VFW, the U.S. Sea Cadets, and even the Oakland Raiderettes.

The event was run with the precision of a military operation: Buses from the VA unloaded men and women in wheelchairs, who were wheeled to a dock where Oakland firefighters and members of the U.S. Coast Guard would load them on to the boats, wheelchair and all.

More than 32 yachts from throughout San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta took part, said Margot Brown, who oversees the event each year. She founded the regatta which bears her name after visiting a similar program for handicapped kids in Southern California, and deciding to create a similar event for those who had served their country and needed something to look forward to each year.

“There a lot of enterprises to entertain kids and teach them but nobody does anything for the veterans,” Brown, of Alameda, said. “They are the forgotten people, especially the older ones. For many of them this is the only outing of the year from their institution.”

More 350 patients from VA facilities in Yountville, Palo Alto, Livermore and Martinez took part, earning rides through the Oakland-Alameda Estuary and beyond, through San Francisco Bay. The yacht club lends its facility for the day, the veterans groups take care of the barbecue and other volunteers do everything else to make the event successful.

For Fred Rutledge, vice commodore of the yacht association, the event was a chance to help out older servicemen and women.

“I’ve been in the service 30 years so it’s taking care of our brothers," said Rutledge, who served in the U.S. Army.

Despite the fact that volunteers are plentiful, the regatta needs funding and Brown is looking for a larger sponsor who could take on a funding role. Right now, she funds the event with contributions from various donors and the Encinal Yacht Club.

“It (event) doesn’t run by itself,” she said. “Funding is a major effort.”

In the meantime, Brown will continue to serve the veterans, even if it means taking in $5 donations, she said. Those interested in contributing to the event can get more information from the regatta website.

Photos by Dave Boitano.


Donna Eyestone's picture
Submitted by Donna Eyestone on Mon, Oct 1, 2012

Thanks for this story - -and the photos are wonderful.