Thousands gather at Orange County Fairgrounds to honor veterans

Dressed in World War II Army captain's paratrooper clothing, Jim Palmer had some fun with a young boy who was curious about the vintage weaponry.

Palmer, a Riverside resident and president of the 82nd Airborne WWII Living History Assn., was one of an estimated 7,000 attendees and volunteers at the third annual Veterans Day celebration on Wednesday, held at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.


The boy asked if the stielhandgranate — a stick-like German grenade sometimes called a "potato masher" — on the association's display table was still active.

Palmer coaxed him to "pull the string and find out." The boy laughed and backed away.


Moments later, on a more serious note, Palmer commented that he wasn't unable to enlist when he was younger.

"I do this to give back to the guys who did get to serve," he said.

Attendees of the Veterans Day celebration, sponsored by area unions including the Orange County Employees Assn., ate hog dogs and perused the various booths. Veterans were treated to free beer.

Others wrote thank-you notes to service members and dropped off supplies for a donation drive.

The day also included an unveiling ceremony of a new Vietnam War U.S. Postal Service stamp.

Orange County Fair Board member Nick Berardino, a Vietnam War Marine veteran and retired OCEA general manager, noted many service members of his generation were not well treated when they came home.

"But today," he said, "we want you to know the folks here in Orange County — we haven't forgotten [your service]. We'll never forget."

Berardino noted that the fairgrounds is working to establish a veterans museum, Heroes Hall, in the Memorial Gardens Building, a former World War II-era Army barracks.

Crews will break ground in February, aiming to complete the museum by Veterans Day 2016.

"We hope that the next Veterans Day event," Berardino said, "will be in the plaza of the most beautiful museum anywhere in the United States honoring veterans, right here in the fairgrounds."