He served more than 50 years ago during the Vietnam War, as a young, and scared, army dentist from 1968 to 1969.
But each year, when Palo Alto holds a ceremony for Veterans Day, as it did on this past cloudy Monday evening, Horowitz was grateful to be reminded of his contributions to his country — and those of millions of others.
"The only time I really remember my service is when Palo Alto holds this event," he said.
About 60 people gathered at King Plaza in front of City Hall to commemorate those who once served, or currently serve, in the military ahead of Veterans Day, which is this Thursday, Nov. 11. In attendance were city council members, members of the fire and police department, including Police Chief Robert Jonsen, city staff and local veterans.
Masako Yokota, a classical vocalist and chief of staff to the chair of the nonprofit Cancer Commons, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful." Dr. Joseph Felter, a Hoover Institution research fellow and a former U.S. Army Special Forces and foreign area officer, gave a speech as the evening's guest speaker.
Felter recognized the late George Shultz, a top cabinet member during the Nixon and Reagan administrations and former captain in the Marine Corps, who died in February at his Stanford home. He also recognized members of local law enforcement and the fire department, which Felter likened to veterans.
"Our members of the law enforcement ... and fire department here, first responders — so many others take risks to protect us just like our veterans do in combat," Felter said. "And in some ways, it's even more challenging. ... Every day, every night, there are people on duty ... who have to remain vigilant and committed to protecting us all."
The national holiday, which honors about 19 million living veterans, especially resonates with the city of Palo Alto: About 26 city employees have identified themselves as veterans, five who serve in the Fire Department, Palo Alto City Manager Ed Shikada said in his brief recognition on Monday.
"We've got (veteran) representatives in virtually every (city) department," ranging from the city's Administrative Services Department to the Public Works Department, Shikada said.
In addition, about seven local veterans sat in the small audience, three of whom served in the Vietnam War, including Horowitz.
"I saw a lot of kids there (in Vietnam) — scared to death," Horowitz said in a brief conversation. "So was I."
Ray Powell, an Atherton resident who served in the U.S. Embassy as a defense attache in Canberra, Australia, and air attache in Hanoi, Vietnam, said in an interview that, for him, the national holiday is a way to help service members feel included with the rest of American society, which includes many people who may never have to be exposed to a line of fire or other hostile environments.
"The extent to which our veterans connect to the rest of society is vital to the health of our democracy," Powell said. "We can't let veterans be something other than an integral part of our society."
Felter also took a brief moment to acknowledge veterans who have died by suicide and encouraged the audience to support veteran assistance organizations. (According to the latest data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, 6,261 veterans died by suicide in 2019.)
"The best way to thank a veteran for their services is to be good citizens, to be worthy of our veterans' sacrifices," Felter said.
Panel offers advice on mental health and veterans
The same day that the city celebrated the service of veterans, the private Palo Alto University held a virtual event to discuss how veterans can seek mental health counseling and what family members can also do to support them.
Acknowledging the troubling suicide rates among veterans, Kristen Vescera, a clinical psychologist and combat veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, said in the panel discussion that one of the biggest challenges for veterans is assimilating back to normal life.
"Often there can be a disconnect between veterans and civilians," Vescera said. "(Veterans) might feel misunderstood when trying to communicate."
Vescera spoke of her past experiences talking with her parents while she was deployed and how she became increasingly distant from her family whenever they saw each other.
"When I was home, I was not so pleasant," she said.
According to Josef Ruzek, the moderator of Monday's panel, another challenge is the ability to seek mental health counseling, which can stem from the practical barriers — such as being able to navigate the health care system or take time off work to seek help — as well as mental barriers.
"It's hard for a lot of people, especially veterans, to believe that mental health counseling can actually help," said Ruzek, founding director of the university's Early Intervention research clinic who also specializes in treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. "People don't have much idea of mental health counseling."
Though there's less stigma around seeking support these days, Vescera said that the military culture, which emphasizes strength, often still leads veterans to misconstrue the acknowledgment of mental health problems as a sign of weakness.
Family members play a critical role in helping veterans seek help.
"One of the biggest motivators for veterans is to repair life with their families," Ruzek said.
Vescera offered a few pointers for families on how to approach the issue with their veterans: Do be yourself and be genuine; remain calm when listening to a veteran's experiences; listen without judgment; and stay positive, which does not necessarily translate to overenthusiasm but rather reassuring the person that help is available.
Ashlynn Steinbaugh, who also spoke on Monday's panel as a graduate student at Palo Alto University and as a daughter of a veteran father, said that it's important for families to "talk early, and talk often."
"If you notice something that kind of seems out of the usual or they're not acting right ... talk about it and try to figure out how to start these conversations," Steinbaugh said.
Vescera also pointed to a few "don'ts" with respect to those family conversations: Don't argue; don't agree to confidentiality if you can't keep the promise; don't blame yourself; and don't give lectures or speeches on the value of life or being more grateful — it could make the veteran feel guilty, Vescera said.
"The only person you're in control of is yourself, and that's the same way with the veteran," she said.
Ruzek also recognized that it's important that each family member's mental well-being is also in check.
"It's important to remember that if you want to be the most constructive part of that person's future or that person's recovery ... it's going to be necessary for you to manage and take care of your own well-being," he said.
To view the full seminar, which also offers a list of resources for veterans and families, go to tinyurl.com/PAUvets2021. The panel discussion was part of the school's larger webinar series, "At the Forefront of Mental Health."
Help is available
Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can call 855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 888-628-9454.
People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting RENEW to 741741.