While Saturday’s 12th annual Veterans Appreciation Barbecue was much smaller than in recent years, it wasn’t short on veterans and community members with a passion for helping others.
The event, hosted in the city parking lot at Second Street and Ohio Avenue across from VFW Post 2591, began with a prayer, posting of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem, sung by Richard DeFord, and remarks from Ret. Brig. Gen. Dennis Shull of the Missouri Army National Guard.
Shull began his speech by telling the audience he wanted to share his thoughts on an important subject — national treasure. He said in America there are many national treasures, such as an abundance of resources, energy and geological features, but he wanted to focus on just one.
“Chief among all the national treasure that I think we have here in America is our military and our veterans,” he said. “Now why do I call that a national treasure? It’s a unique thing for people to raise their right hand and say I do solemnly swear to support the Constitution and it’s a unique thing for them to put their life on the line for their brothers and others in uniform in order to keep that oath.
“I don’t think the average American has a clue today just what it is those of you out there that have worn the uniform in combat. I don’t think they know the price you paid personally for that service. I don’t think they understand waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats and bad dreams. … You hear a lot about PTSD and the things affecting our young people in the military and I can tell you that’s real.
“… These things our veterans have to put up with, the physical scars, the mental scars, that’s the price they paid for our children and grandchildren to be free,” he continued. “I’d like the average American to understand that, but I don’t think they do. But I can tell you I appreciate it.”
As he closed his short remarks, Shull offered some advice to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“I have a little advice for Hillary and Donald and that advice would be don’t squander that national treasure. Don’t use the military for things which the military should not be used,” he said. “… This national treasure is designed for and intended to secure our nation and be careful about using it frivolously.”
After Shull’s speech, Gaertner recognized two veterans and barbecue volunteers who have been helping with almost every barbecue since it was started in 2004 — Vietnam War veteran Curt Miller, who helps with sound and securing the band each year, and Korean War veteran Charles Opfer, who handles getting the food together and all the volunteer cooks.
Gaertner joked that each year Opfer says it will be his last year assisting with the event, yet he continues to return. When speaking with the Democrat later, Opfer said he’ll be back next year to help with food.
Miller is a highly active volunteer, working with the Healing Box Project, which teaches veterans how to play the guitar, and helping to organize music events with well-known acts such as REO Speedwagon across the state to raise money for various causes, such as veterans organizations or cancer research. He said it’s all about helping people.
“We need to help each other. We need to show them how to do it; I call it planting the seed. Organizing churches and veterans organizations and multiple people here doing that,” Miller told the Democrat. “… After 50,000 hours of volunteering in the hospitals, you can count the bullets in my body and I see these people since the ’70s rot away in these hospitals because they’re not active. I’d rather go out and do something positive and show people that I’ve got five busted vertebrae, I’ve got a blood clot in here. Til I drop dead I’m going to help people. That’s what I was in the military for in the first place.”
All of the money raised from the barbecue will be donated to the Central Missouri Veteran’s Home in Warrensburg to pay for materials and supplies for the residents.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.