The second annual Armed Forces Appreciation Day is set for Saturday, May 21, at the Houston Area Chamber of Commerce Fairgrounds on North U.S. 63.

Spearheaded by Houston’s American Legion Post 41, the event will take place on national Armed Forces Day and is an effort to show respect for members of all branches of the United States military, both past and present. Assisting in making the day possible are the chamber and multiple Texas County veterans groups, including VFW Post 473 in Cabool and VFW Post 6337 in Licking, as well as the local Fleet Reserve Association.

Planned activities and attractions include a presentation of the colors by the Missouri Honor Guard, live music, a special guest speaker, a tractor show by the Cabool-based Ozarks Older Iron Club, drawings for prizes (including an AR-15 rifle) and a free meal served to attending veterans and family members. Personnel from Fort Leonard Wood will also be on hand to offer various demonstrations.

“It’s a day for the veterans,” said Post 41 Commander Bob Joens, who served with the Army from 1961 to 1965 and was stationed in Germany during the build-up of the Berlin Wall. “Everything we’ve done in planning for this has been done for them.”

“It’s important to recognize the people who have served,” said Post 41 member Julius Fraley, “regardless of where and when.”

Representatives of the Veterans Administration (VA) will be on hand to discuss issues with veterans and potentially provide them with direction and solutions. Gold Star Family members are also encouraged to attend (widows and other family members who have lost a loved one to military service).

Not many World War II veterans are still alive, but one or two are expected to be there.

“They need to know we still recognize and appreciate what they did,” Fraley said.

Post 41 members raised more than $16,000 for the event via donations from area businesses, organizations and individuals. There are 85 sponsors, whose names will be displayed on a large board.

“We didn’t see any frowns anywhere,” said Post member Bob Simpson, a former Navy chief electronics technician who helped lead the fundraising effort. “We got smiles wherever we went, whether we got a donation or not.”

While all veterans will be honored at the event, there will be an emphasis on Vietnam War vets, as this year is designated as the 50th anniversary of that conflict. March 28 was National Vietnam Commemoration Day, and Post 41 hosted an event specifically for Vietnam vets.

“It’s the largest group of veterans left,” Simpson said. “During the actual period, they didn’t get any honor at all, and a lot of them are bitter about that. I was never in combat, but I was in during that time and they told us not to travel in dress uniform because of the problems that could be encountered.

“Fortunately, that has mostly turned around.”

The event also represents a valuable chance for veterans to interact with one another.

“The important thing about this is it creates comradeship amongst the veterans,” said Post 41 member Rudy Blahnik. “So many of them are fighting a war within their head, and they need fellow veterans to communicate with to help ease the pain because a civilian can’t understand what it’s like to be in combat.”

Post 41 member Kim Wolfe was a flight nurse with the Air Force for 16 years and was deployed several times to multiple places, including Bosnia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. She is the daughter of Post 41 adjutant Ron Jones, who is also curator of the Texas County Historical and Military Museum in Houston.

Wolfe said it’s great to get area veterans together in one place, because it’s like being with family.

“We all have our war stories,” she said, “and it’s hard to explain them to civilians. It’s great to be in a group of people who have served, and have experienced something similar to what you’ve been through.”

The event isn’t limited to people living in Texas County; veterans and their relatives from anywhere are welcome to attend.

For more information, call 417-967-2220.

ARMED FORCES DAY

While not an official public holiday, Armed Forces Day was created in 1949 to replace separate days recognizing the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force and Marines. It now includes recognition of the Coast Guard and Space Force and annually falls on the third Saturday in May.

President Harry S Truman was instrumental in the multi-branch recognition day’s creation, and the announcement of its implementation was made by Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. The day was first celebrated in 1950.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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