Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

November 10, 2013

Dinner honors veterans

By MELINDA J. OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — No matter which branch of the military or during which years or whether or not they ever had the fate of being engaged in combat, the dozens of past and present veterans who attended a dinner in their honor Sunday had one thing in common: a willingness to put their lives on the line for their country.

“Every day, they put on their uniforms and lay down their lives for each of us,” retired Army Col. James M. Drake, the evening’s guest speaker would note.

Having a dinner for veterans as part of the commemoration of the Veterans Day holiday has been happening in Barren County 35 years.

As each person who has served in the military signed in Sunday before entering the gymnasium at the National Guard Armory in Glasgow, he or she received a small pocket knife fashioned within a piece of ammunition -- .45-caliber shells for officers and a 7.62 rifle round for enlisted members of the service.

Once inside, Charles “Bear” Logsdon, who served in Vietnam in the Army from 1967 to 1970, was making some rounds and chatting, taking advantage of a special opportunity at what he believed was his fifth such dinner.

He usually sees several others who fought in that war at the event, he said, as the Glasgow Community Band played patriotic tunes in the background.

“[The dinner] kind of makes you feel more open to relate to the other people who were in war time like I was,” Logsdon said. “So many veterans are so closed up about what happened to them on the battlefield. … An event like this is like meeting your brothers and sisters that fought in the same war, and it’s like a reunion.

“We all fought for the same cause – for a freer America.”

Logsdon said he got his nickname “because I’m big and I’ve got a big heart and a whole lot of love for my country.”

Tim Bush, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1984 to 1990, said he considers the dinner a special occasion.

“All our brothers get together and eat a meal and reminisce about what we’ve been through, said

Across the table from Bush was Scott Benson, an Afghanistan combat veteran who served with the Army National Guard’s 223rd Military Police Battalion based in Louisville, said this was his first year to attend. He hadn’t been to many veterans events overall, he said, but as a member of the Freedom Warriors he’s been doing more of that.

He was looking forward to reminiscing, hearing stories from soldiers “old and new,” and sharing a meal with them, he said.

Joe Litera, who served as a Marine in Vietnam 1965 to ’68, losing a leg while there, said the dinner is a way of thanking veterans for all they do.

“It just happens to fall on a special day for us, he said, referring to the Nov. 10 Marine Corps’ birthday.

Before the meal began, the USMC tradition was observed of having the oldest Marine and youngest Marine present cut the cake – this one celebrating 238 years – and get the first pieces, with 92-year-old John Wood taking the first slice, and James Boyter, 22, got the second.

As the occupants of each of the seven long tables, each seating as many as 36 people, took their turns standing in curved line for the buffet-style meal, they took advantage of the additional time to chat.

James Crow explained that had served in two wars and two branches of the military. He was in the USMC from 1943 to ’46, serving in World War II. Later, as a member of the 1st Battalion 623rd Field Artillery, he deployed to Korea during that conflict, and later left the service as a second lieutenant.

“I try to attend every year; it’s just an enjoyable time to see old friends. It brings back a lot of memories,” the 88-year-old Crow said.

With the meal drawing to a close, those unable to be at this or any dinner with their loved ones because they were or are prisoners of war or missing in action were honored with the missing-man ceremony, during which a table with five empty place settings and chairs remain empty as a hat symbolizing each branch of the service is placed and a single candle is lit. Members of the Barren County High School Junior ROTC presented the ceremony, as well as a rifle-handling drill.

Retired Army Col. James M. Drake, the evening’s guest speaker, recognized two “special” veterans of the 623rd – Robert A. Lessenberry and Joe Lane Travis – before momentarily switching gears to the next generation. He said he didn’t think there was anything “junior” about the job the ROTC members did.

“It’s wonderful to see that kind of leadership coming on,” Drake said.

He pointed out that Veterans Day is observed on the 11th day of the 11th month to commemorate the day in 1918 “when the guns fell silent across Europe,” marking the time troops could soon begin coming home from World War I.

“But they didn’t stay silent long,” Drake said, speaking briefly of the issues that led to World War II and quoting accolades for those veterans.

Drake, who served during active duty with  the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company outside DaNang, Vietnam, and later became a full-time staff member of the 623rd for eight years, including time as its executive officer, eventually made his way after military retirement to serve in the Kentucky Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs departments, among other roles. His wife Ruth, a Barren County native, accompanied him to Sunday’s dinner.

Drake pulled on his experience helping veterans to discuss improvements to services available and continued needs.

After his remarks concluded, a reminder was issued of Monday’s Veterans Day Parade, scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. in downtown Glasgow and the subsequent program at the Glasgow-Barren County Veterans’ Wall, for which Drake has a different speech planned, and an open house at the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center.

The dinner and parade are sponsored by the Barren County Veterans’ Association.

A few individuals lingered for some final chatting, including Donald and Pat Likes of Austin. The Anderson County natives moved to Barren County, where they’d been coming for years to visit friends, Pat Likes said. The move came after they retired, but before that, Donald Likes had served with Drake in Frankfort. In the 63rd Aviation Brigade, he said.

“He was a helicopter pilot and I was a crew member,” Likes said, adding that he appreciated the dinner and the chance to see “old friends.”

“Most of the veterans are from different areas,” he said, “and things like this bring us back together.”