It is difficult to determine an afternoon of success when so many Veterans have seen things that many eyes could not look upon were commanded to fight in places where their souls deeply rebelled and were condoned to wretched places where most would never survive.
Nearly every Veteran that walked through the doors during the Craig County Seventh Annual Veterans and Active Military HONOR Dinner showed their heartfelt thanks to all who took part in appreciating their service. There were door prizes, thoughtful gifts and of course a delicious dinner.
“It’s a far cry from how we were treated when we got back from the war,” many Veterans shared. “But this is Craig County, and they have always honored us here. There’s no place like it on earth.”
On Sunday, November 13, the doors at the VFW Post #4491 in Craig County opened to over 135 Veterans, active military and their families. “We look forward to this event every year!” one Vietnam Veteran shared. “I wouldn’t miss it because I get to see my comrades and buddies who mean the world to me.”
Driving up the long driveway to the VFW, the military was welcomed by signs that read, “Because you freely gave, we can freely live! We thank you!” The local Craig Valley Daughters of the American Revolution also had a sign at the front door which shared their much appreciation.
The Military team that took months to plan this event was not only pleased but astounded at the turnout. The team was led by Pam Dudding-Burch with help from Betty Dudding, Diane Givens and Lynn Elmore. David Givens and his ‘Dave’s Live Sounds’ took care of the entire technical needs.
Dudding said with a smile, “The team leaders I had for the event this year were priceless to me. I had no worries once the event started as to whether anything was not going to get done. They all had their part and are more than excellent in completing the tasks at hand.”
Each military person and their families were greeted at the doorway. They entered into a fully patriotically decorated red, white and blue building, from American flags to red and blue stars, to streamers that had been entwined with the American colors, to a donated slate sign from Grace Assembly’s Hope Center that read, “Welcome to our home.”
This year, the military and their families walked in on a new red-carpet runner, as a heartfelt symbol of honoring them and their service. “Since the first year we had the dinners, I wanted to have a red carpet, and it just didn’t happen,” Pam Dudding-Burch shared. “This year, I happened to share it with the right person.”
She said she called all of the carpet shops in Roanoke and Salem. At the end of her list was Carpetland in Hollins. Blain, the store manager, suggested making a call to Carpet Mill Outlet to talk to Ruthie who would go on to look in her warehouse. She had none but contacted The Carpet Factory Outlet.
She shared the story and suggested a call be made to the owner, Danny Robertson. As fate would have it, Robertson is also a Veteran and called back to let the team know that he was donating the carpet. To Dudding’s surprise, when she picked it up, he had contacted his buddy in Vinton, The Cutting Edge did the binding for free. And thus, the beautiful red carpet was finally obtained and laid for the military to enter on. “It’s a non-verbal way to share a very sincere act of appreciation and honor to them,” Dudding said.
It was easy to see that volunteers made the entire event run like a well-oiled engine. Betty Dudding and Barbara Davis hosted the registration table while Carol Kessler and Darlene Stanley were the hostesses. Stanley brought her teens and church members from Cornerstone Church of God, Lynn Elmore recruited ladies from The Manor and friends for the kitchen, Ricky and Donna Francisco greeted, parked cars and waited tables and there were many members from the community who pitched in to do whatever they could to help.
David Givens continued to awe the team, as each year he provides more equipment to bring an up to date technology to help facilitate the program. As one entered the main room, a large TV was easily seen with each signet of the military branches and words of appreciation before any verbal words were spoken.
After each person was seated by the wait staff, Sandra Ruble, who has become the annual happy and welcoming Miss American hostess, honorably welcomed each veteran and gave them a gift from Guthrie’s Insurance Company along with some wonderful candies. “I really enjoy doing this for our military,” Ruble shared.
The afternoon for the military guests included a wonderful meal which consisted of roast beef and gravy (donated by the Roanoke Moose Lodge #284 off of Rt 311), mashed potatoes (Pine Top), green beans (Jean Bradley and friends), cole slaw (Roanoke Moose Lodge and Fran Kendall), angel eggs (Lynn Elmore and many ladies from Craig) and rolls (Craig Valley DAR ladies). No one could forget the delicious homemade desserts of pumpkin pies, chocolate and coconut cakes, apple and cherry pies, banana pudding and éclair cake, which was made Diane Givens and other ladies from Craig.
The chatter was at a low roar, but one that touched the hearts of many as people stood back and watched countless warm hugs, handshakes and tender smiles exchange so freely. “You can’t put this into words,” Dudding shared. She added that the huge red, white and blue ‘Thank You Veterans’ sign that the teachers at Craig County made was greatly appreciated.
The event opened with a reading of Dennis White’s poem. Ken Looney, Chaplain of the VFW Post #4491 and Veteran, honorably set the stage with his first words of his opening prayer.
“Lord, you moved upon men to establish this great nation. You stirred men to hope and to dream for a land of freedom. We praise you Lord for this great nation we live in. Lord, you have inspired many of our best and brightest to volunteer, to stand proudly and to defend our beloved country. You have given us brave and loyal men and women who have bravely served in their chosen branch of the military. We gather here today to remember our military personnel. We acknowledge that their service enables us to walk as free men and women in this great land.”
Food was served after that and compliments were exchanged in abundance. The team also prepared over 25 to go meals to be taken home to the spouses who could not attend as well as the Veterans who could not make the event.
The Craig Valley Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) gave a presentation of The Fallen Service Member Honor Table, something that DAR member Diane Givens shared. “The tradition of setting a separate table in honor of our prisoners of war and missing comrades has been in place since the end of the Vietnam War,” she said. “The manner in which this table is decorated is full of special symbols to help remember the brothers and sisters in arms.”
As Givens read the descriptions, DAR ladies gently put them in their rightful positions. Each piece represented a heartfelt part of military service;
- The POW/MIA table was smaller than the others, symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner alone against his or her oppressors.
- The white tablecloth represented the purity of their response to our country’s call to arms.
- The empty chair depicted an unknown face, representing no specific soldier, sailor, airman or marine, but all who are not here with us.
The table itself was round to show that our concern for them is never-ending.
- The Bible represented faith in a higher power and the pledge to our country, founded as one nation under God.
- The black napkin stood for the emptiness these warriors have left in the hearts of their families and friends.
- The yellow candle and its yellow ribbon symbolize the everlasting hope for a joyous reunion with those yet accounted for.·The slices of lemon on the bread plate remind us of their bitter fate.
- The salt upon the bread plate represent the tears of their families.
- The wine glass, turned upside down, reminds us that our distinguished comrades cannot be with us to drink a toast or join in the festivities of the evening.
This was immediately followed by the remembrance of the military from Craig who had passed since last year’s HONOR dinner, with a moment of silence and prayer.
David Givens then showed a video which shared how the initial writing of the Star Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key came out. The emotion of the battle on the screen created a tangible respect for the silence among everyone in the room. All stood for the singing of the National Anthem.
Luther shared his life story which included funny happenings as well as emotional moments. He talked about his family and the many brothers and sisters he had and the multiple times they moved in his childhood. “I sort of know how the people felt in the Bible when they had to move around for 40 years in the wilderness,” he said as many laughed with him.
After Compton came out of the service in 1967, he remembered a promise he made to himself, that if he could ever get somewhere in life where he could do better, he would do it. “I did do that, and then I made myself another promise too,” he said. “When we were kids, all we had to wear were bibbed overalls. That was it. So, I made myself a promise that if I could get somewhere to buy a belt with a pair of britches, I’d never put on another pair of bibs again.”
He apologized if he talked bad about anyone else’s situation, but many just laughed and looked at one another with an understanding. One Veteran actually had made the promise when he was a kid, saying he’d never wear jeans in his life again, once he got to working and made his own way. He didn’t until his daughter found him a very soft pair, but he was well into his 40s or 50s before he conceded.
Compton also shared his life story, having 14 operations, time at a cancer treatment center with surgery. “If any of you need to talk to you about how I can help you, please let me know,” he said. “I loved serving my country and am grateful to be here today to share this with you. God bless every one of you.”
At this point, it was time for the door prizes. Though the team got a late start in retrieving donations, many businesses did not hesitate in offering their donation to the military personnel.
Many thanks go out to these businesses and persons in Craig County: Dave’s Live Sounds (David Givens), Angie Guthrie Insurance Agency, Paitsel Funeral Home, IGA Express, Food Country, Market Street Pharmacy, Bibo’s Pizzeria, Pine Top, Emporium, The Farmers & Merchants Bank, Subway, Family Dollar, Helms Automotive, Craig Automotive, C&M Market, The Homeplace Restaurant, Katie’s Pet Grooming, Hutch on Main, The Depot Lodge in Paint Bank, Avon – Dana Nelson, Faye Powers Jewelry (and homemade cakes), Betty Dudding’s homemade breads, Thomas Spraker, Gary Burch, Craig County Historical Society and Pat Charlton as well as others who chose to remain anonymous.
Several churches – Cornerstone Church of God, Crossroads Church, Lighthouse Baptist Church, New Castle Christian Church, The Hope Center at Grace Assembly of God, First Baptist Church – Melissa Altizer, Trinity United Methodist Church, Craig Valley Baptist Church, United Methodist Church, United Methodist Church Men’s Fellowship and Paxton Chapel – opened their hearts to help.
Many Salem businesses also opened freely gave donations such as Roanoke Moose Lodge, The Carpet Factory Outlet, The Cutting Edge Carpet, K&W Restaurant, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, Starbucks, Food Lion, Sha Pit, Unique Hair Salon, Chick-fil-A, Goodyear, Speedee, Auto Zone, ‘Reilley’s, Advance Auto and Valvoline Auto.
In Roanoke, Ginger’s Jewelry, Red Robin, Olive Garden, Abuelo’s, Carrabba’s, Hollywood’s, O’Charley’s, Edible Arrangements and Lens Crafters donated as well as Hale’s family restaurant in Shawsville.
Much appreciation went to many Craig county citizens and volunteers who served as well as cooked or baked items.
Anyone wishing to be a part of this annual event may contact Pam Dudding-Burch, Betty Dudding, Diane Givens or Lynn Elmore by phone, email or Facebook. “You will be the one blessed more than words can express,” all agreed.
One statement was copied and posted around the VFW in many places which said, “Because of you the brave, we have our freedom and we thank you!”
“I want to send special thanks also to my wonderful team for helping to take down their sections and clean up the VFW after the event was finished,” Dudding shared. “Barbara and Doug Davis were also a God-sent as they stayed and helped and also delivered many to-go meals to Veterans who could not attend.”
Looney shared in his prayer a request which the team felt needed to be. “May each of our Veterans across the nation feel honored, not just today but every day, for their service, and may we never forget, that “Freedom is Not Free!”
Dudding added, “The bloodline that runs through the men and women of the military is easily seen and one that cannot be broken. Not only am I honored to organize this event, but I am deeply privileged to share this time with so many persons of integrity and noble character. I consider them my family as well, family of my heart and I continue to choose to serve them.”