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Memorial Holiday Tribute at Salinas Valley Health

Memorial Holiday Tribute at Salinas Valley Health

Media Contact: Karina Rusk

May 25, 2023 - A 101-year-old WWII Veteran who survived a kamikaze attack on his ship was the guest of honor at a special Memorial holiday event at Salinas Valley Health. John Edward Laughton spoke emotionally about the 1945 air attack on his ship that took the lives of 12 of his comrades.
“It’s important for us to remember all wars,” says John Edward Laughton, WWII Merchant Marine Veteran. “It’s especially important however to remember WWII because there are so few of us left to tell the stories and convey the experiences of the war. I remember all of the service members who did not make it back home. I get teary eyed about it to this day.”
Salinas Valley Health has an historic connection to World War II as fundraising to build the public district hospital was halted during the war. When the Medical Center opened in 1953, it was dedicated to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for freedom. The healthcare system has a long tradition of lining E. Romie lane in Salinas with hundreds of small flags during the Memorial Day and Veterans Day holidays to commemorate the true meaning of the occasions.
“We owe Mr. Laughton and all of our service men and women a debt of gratitude,” says Pete Delgado, Salinas Valley Health president/CEO and Army Veteran. “To have him here in person is significant because the founders of our healthcare system paid tribute to those who served and lost their lives during WWII. As Salinas Valley Health celebrates its 70th anniversary of serving this community, it feels like a full circle moment of our proud history and bright future.”
Laughton lead a procession of Salinas Valley Health staff in the flag placing ceremony and was accompanied by his granddaughter, a nurse at Salinas Valley Health for 25 years.
“I’m so proud my colleagues get to meet my Grandpa and know about his service,” says Betsy Mount, RN, Salinas Valley Health. “This ceremony is very special to him because this is his community. He has been a patient here and has received the excellent care we provide all of our patients.”
Mr. Laughton will also represent the Merchant Marines on a national stage. President Biden has invited him and four fellow WWII Merchant Marines to participate in Memorial Day activities including laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Cemetery. The centenarian and Monterey County resident previously received the Congressional Gold Medal in San Francisco in May of 2022.
According to the National World War II Museum, between 1939 and 1945, more than 9,500 merchant mariners lost their lives — a higher proportion than those killed in any military branch.
Despite their service and sacrifice, for decades, Merchant Marines did not have Veteran status or benefits. A Congressional Act in 1988 made these unsung heroes eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2020, Congress passed the Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act to recognize the Merchant Mariners for their courage and contributions during the war.
“Taking part in the national ceremonies is an historic honor,” says Laughton. “I’m glad to be alive to see the Merchant Marines get the recognition they deserve. This hospital event though really hits home. This is my community. I hope everyone who sees these flags over the next few days, pauses for a moment to appreciate everyone who served and sacrificed during the war. It’s important that we never forget. All war is difficult.”
Salinas Valley Health has launched several Veteran appreciation initiatives to pay tribute to those who have served in the military. Salinas Valley Health staff receive a special badge insignia denoting their Veteran status. This visual acknowledgement honors our employees for their service and just as importantly, helps establish immediate connections with our Veteran patients. All Veteran patients are quickly identified with a flag magnet on the whiteboard located in the patient rooms, providing additional opportunities for positive conversations.
Salinas Valley Health Volunteer Services is also launching a project to create handmade patriotic lap blankets for each Veteran as a personal expression of our collective gratitude for their service to our nation. Any community member interested in supporting the project can email for more information.

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