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For the 17th year in a row, Michael B. Clayton hosted a huge Veterans Day celebration that included a parade, flag ceremony and barbecue for local veterans, their families and the community.

The Santa Maria attorney hoped Saturday's event would draw at least 3,000 people to the Veterans' Memorial Hall on Tunnell Street.

As the celebration began at 10:30 a.m., hundreds made their way through the doors. By 1 p.m., a line wrapped around the building, with no sign of letting up.

"Being able to return every year and do this for all of our vets is such an honor," Clayton said.

The inspiration to put together the barbecue came to Clayton in 2000 when he was sick at home and his wife brought the World War II film "Saving Private Ryan" to watch.

It didn't matter that it was a Hollywood movie, Clayton said. The horrors of the war and graphic depictions of what the service members went through to defend the country were enough for him to decide that he and his family were going to give back to veterans. 

"The first eight years, we hosted the barbecue at our law office on Orange Street," Clayton said. "We had 300 people show up, and we decided that we're going to come back and double that.

"As the event got bigger, we eventually had to move it to the Veterans' Memorial Hall. I hope it gets so large someday that I'll eventually have to find a football stadium for us to go to!" 

While Clayton didn't join the military, his father and uncle were in the Air Force and cousins were in the Marines.

"I'm thankful to have the opportunity and freedom that we all enjoy today, all made possible by our veterans," he said. 

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Gerald Logan, Vietnam War veteran and a member of the Wounded Warrior Project, said he's grateful every year for Clayton, his family and law firm for giving so much support back to military service members. 

"It's a tremendous feeling being here today at an event that is dedicated to veterans," Logan said. "As a Vietnam War veteran, when we came back from the war, we weren't recognized -- we were treated terribly.

"It took decades for people to recognize what we went through. Seeing so much support and love here and all the smiles that Michael brings is an amazing feeling."

The barbecue was free for veterans, reserve, active military and their immediate families; nonveterans were asked to donate $5 per plate. Each year, Clayton chooses a different veterans service organization to support. Proceeds this year will go to the Honor Flight Network. 

In addition to the barbecue, there were booths in the courtyard that offered support services -- from emotional, spiritual and mental health to professional career services. 

"Every booth out here is solely and strictly to help the veterans," Clayton said. "If you've got something you want to help them, I want you here next year."

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210


Courts/Public Safety Reporter