At one table at the Eldora Ruritan Club’s veteran and spouse appreciation dinner Monday night, conversation among the three local veterans flowed.
Robert Holding, Gene Everett and Doug Cook swapped stories about what had led each to enter the service; how the nation was hours away from disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis; they shared a laugh at a joke about Cold War spy Julius Rosenberg saying “ladies first” when facing execution.
“I want to say one thing,” said Holding, who served in the U.S. Army in the early 1950s. “I think this is nice. At one time you didn’t tell anyone you were a vet. You didn’t get recognized.”
Everett, who served in the National Guard, agreed.
“There’s a lot more respect now.”
Holding added, “We want to thank the Ruritan club.”
Doug Cook, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps said, “It’s an honor, and we’re very appreciative.”
Across the room, which was filled with an estimated 112 veterans and their spouses, two Vietnam veterans shared similar sentiments.
“The last 10 years is the only time you want to be recognized as a Vietnam veteran,” said Bill Edwards, who served in the U.S. Army.
Across the table, Pete Welborn, a Marine who served in Vietnam said, “I was glad to get the invitation. Anytime to get together and enjoy the company of military brothers, it’s a good time.”
Those kinds of responses were what Mickey Venable, club president and a Vietnam veteran, had sought when planning the dinner.
“It’s just exceeded our expectations,” Venable said. “There’s just so much good interest.”
The 18-member club hosted the second-annual dinner in place of their regular monthly meeting, and is something they plan on continuing to do.
“This is just one way we’re proud to serve the community,” Venable said. “Fellowship, goodwill and community service. That’s what Ruritan is all about.”
Besides a meal prepared by the Ruritan club, the program included music by Ruritan members Billy and Frankie Smith and Billy Smith’s former Country Playboys bandmate Doug Reeves and several veteran speakers.
The evening opened with the group singing “America,” followed by presentation of the colors by the Surry Central High School Junior ROTC.
Derrik Brown, a senior at Surry Central and ROTC member, said “It means a lot to be here and share a meal,” he said. “I have family in the military, and joining ROTC and seeing how much it means to other people, it’s just an honor to be in the same room.”
One notable guest was O.G. “Pete” Carroll, a 99-year-old World War II veteran who served under General George S. Patton.
His introduction by Venable was met with applause.
“I talked to Pete about being here and he said, ‘I can’t walk good, but I can ride and eat as good as the next guy,’” Venable said, informing the group that Carroll, a member of the Copeland Ruritan Club, was the oldest living Ruritan in the nation.
Venable also mentioned that the spouses deserved recognition.
“It’s a nice gesture,” said Peggy Smith, who lived in Alabama and Georgia, while her husband Billy Smith served in the U.S. Army.
One speaker, Ronald Snow, a veteran and Ruritan member, informed the group of the Ruritan history and noted that veterans were present from all major conflicts since World War II.
“We have a very broad spectrum of service here,” Snow said.
Everett and Holding also shared reflections with the group.
Between speakers, the house band played Merle Haggard’s “Walking on the Fighting Side of Me,” “Some Gave All,” by Billy Ray Cyrus, and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
In his remarks, Monroe Donathan, who served in the U.S. Air Force, said one thing that united veterans was “we don’t hate the man in front of us we are fighting, we love the man that’s fighting beside us.”
“Every veteran has done his part and paid his dues in some way.”
Kelly Creed, said her husband Bryan Green was often reluctant to take advantage of some veteran discounts, but had enjoyed the evening.
“This was just different, it’s local community guys,” said Bryan Green, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Mickey called me up, and I made sure I came. It’s an honor to be in company with these people.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.