Boy Scout Troop 919 Senior Patrol Leader Justin Cos serves a dinner to Army veteran Paul Chapman during a veterans appreciation dinner the troop hosted at Morrow Presbyterian Church Saturday night.
MORROW —“It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion,” said dozens of notes placed on tables at Morrow Presbyterian Church over the weekend.
They continued with:
“It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press,
“It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
“It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
“It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
“It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
“Thank you veteran.”
About a dozen veterans and their families found that note when they arrived at the church for a feast of appreciation from Boy Scout Troop 919 Saturday night. The troop held its third annual veterans appreciation dinner for former military servicemen and women from across the Southern Crescent.
“It’s a way for the boys to show some respect and honor for our veterans,” Scoutmaster David Turner said.
Scouts served veterans the dinners, which included thick, juicy slices of turkey, hefty servings of stuffing and mashed potatoes, a roll and green beans. There were also dessert options of peach cobbler and hot fudge covered brownies.
Each place setting had the note about veterans, as well as placards featuring famous quotes about warfare and veterans. There was a “thank you” card, made by Cub Scouts, at each table. The scouts also made a poster thanking veterans for their service.
“It’s nice that the leaders spend time to teach the boys about what sacrifices veterans have made for their country, because they get to learn a little bit about military service in the process,” Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5080 Commander John Bogardus said.
The scouts worked with the post’s Ladies Auxiliary to perform the MIA remembrance ceremony. Each scout came into the room and put out one piece of a place setting at a table to honor servicemen and women who are missing in action. Bogardus said it’s a ceremony that is steeped in tradition.
“It usually represents those that are missing at our dinner,” he said. “The table is always there and always set for them.”
For the scouts, the dinner presented several overlapping opportunities. It was a chance to thank veterans in general for their service, but it was also a time for the boys to show tribute to family members who served in the military and fought in wars.
And for some of the scouts, such as Justin Cos, it was a chance to look into their own futures. Cos, the troop’s senior patrol leader, said he plans to join the Air Force after he graduates from school. He’s had relatives who served in the Army and the Air Force in the past.
“It makes me want to strive harder to be in the Air Force,” Cos said. “By listening to them talk about their experiences, I found myself saying ‘Why can’t it be me? Why can’t I go and do that?’”
But, for the veterans — many of whom served in the Vietnam War — the dinner was a welcome contradiction to the reception they got 40-50 years ago when they came home from war. They all said they were treated with contempt and called “baby killers” by civilians when they got back to American soil.
It was a far cry from the jubilation that greeted World War II veterans, who were celebrated and came to be referred to as “the great generation.”
“It certainly makes me glad to see the scouts recognizing veterans like this,” said Forest Park resident James Eason, a Navy veteran. “I was in Vietnam and, at that time, people were not as appreciative as they are now. A lot of times, the troops returning from Vietnam would come back and people would ridicule them.”
Hampton resident and Army veteran, Paul Chapman, said he was also happy to see the scouts recognize veterans at the dinner.
“It’s a very welcome change from what we went through when we came back from Vietnam,” he said.
But fellow Hampton resident Don Lillegard said, while showings of affection such as the dinner are appreciated, men and women who go into the military are not doing so to receive applause and signs of gratitude back home. Lillegard served in the Army during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“We did our job,” he said. “That’s what you do when you join the military.”