PRINCETON — They proudly wore ball caps and jackets bearing words like World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and more as the public came together Saturday and honored them by serving breakfast, offering useful gifts and services and repeatedly saying the heartfelt words, “Thank you for your service.”
More than 400 veterans filled the Princeton Church of God’s sanctuary as they gathered for the fifth Community Veterans Breakfast and Stand Down Event. American flags waved on huge television screens as the veterans were greeted to the event and thanked for their service and continuing sacrifices.
“Let me tell you what, this is my favorite time of the year,” Omar Aboulhosn, a member of the Community Veterans committee, told the guests. “We get to honor the greatest Americans. We are the greatest country in the world because of you.”
The event opened with prayers, a Presentation of the Colors Ceremony conducted by the Montcalm High School JROTC, and the Star-Spangled Banner performed by Keith Circle. And instead of a guest speaker, the veterans were entertained with songs performed by Oakvale School second and third-grade students.
“We say God Bless you for all you do,” the children sang. “You are our heroes. What you can say to a hero? To someone who’s always there? What you can say to a hero?”
Veterans were asked who was the longest-serving veteran and who was the oldest. The oldest veteran present was World War II vet Jake Hatcher of Princeton.
Long lines of veterans and their families formed up at the four food stations offering biscuits, gravy, eggs and sausage along with juice and coffee. Soon veterans who served during different wars and different eras were sharing their experiences with each other. Many said the fact the community came together to organize such an event for them was heartwarming. Besides breakfast, they were offered items such as boots, backpacks and food along with services including flu shots.
“It means a heck of a lot,” U.S. Navy veteran Herman Ray Small, 74, of Gary – who served on the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Union from 1964 to 1967 – said as he waited in line. “A lot of the things I get, I share with other veterans and people without.”
Small was chatting with 88-year-old Korean War veteran Robert Palmer of Princeton, who served in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne from 1950 to 1953.
“Well, I think it’s a good thing, and they deserve something, all of them,” Palmer said of his fellow veterans.
Randall Clark, 68, of Bluewell recalled being drafted into the Army and serving in West Germany from 1972 to 1974.
“Few things touch my heart, but this touches my heart, I guess, because we’re patriots,” Clark said.
And the veterans were ready to serve their country again if called to do so. Cecilio Bezares, 37, of Princeton, who served in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said he and other veterans were bound by oath to serve until they died.
One veteran could remember the biggest battle the Army fought in Europe during World War II.
Albert Dale Griffin, 94, of Princeton,an 82nd Airborne veteran of the Battle of the Bulge and recipient of the Purple Heart, recalled being presented battle stars by the General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander. Griffin could also recall the sacrifices made when in the winter of 1944, Germany launched a powerful attack through the Ardennes region of Europe. Their objective was the vital port of Antwerp. While the American divisions in the Ardennes were caught by surprise, their tenacious defensive immediately put the German offensive behind schedule. Griffin said only 24 members of his battalion were left by the time the Battle of the Bulge was over.
After finishing breakfast, veterans and their families entered a long line to get backpacks, boots, coats, food and other items. Aboulhosn told the veterans that there were 600 pairs of boots to share among 400 veterans, plus 700 to 800 T-shirts, jackets and other items. Aboulhosn said each veteran would be getting at least one of the big items. Shopping carts were provided to help veterans take gifts to their vehicles.
Aboulhosn thanked Princeton Healthcare, Bojangles, Douglas Equipment, Grants Supermarket, the Disabled Veterans National Foundation, Operation Gratitude, the Concord University Baseball Team, Princeton Church of God greeters, the Rotary Clubs of Bluefield and Princeton, and the Princeton Rescue Squad. The event committee included Marie Blackwell, Roger Topping, Randy Maxwell, Kevin Weiss, Pastor J.B. Hurt, Aaron Edwards, Tracie Hamb and Stephanie Compton.
Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org