SG-VHV holds 10th annual Independence Day Picnic
By Brittany Fholer
More than 1,000 people came out to celebrate early at the Star Group-Veterans Helping Veterans’ 10th annual Independence Day Picnic Saturday at the Copperas Cove Civic Center.
The event, which was free and open to the public, is held to honor veterans and their families for their sacrifices. Since it is held in the weeks before the Fourth of July, it allows veterans to spend the holiday with their families.
The event started with the unveiling of the traveling Purple Heart Memorial Wall, which pays tribute to fallen service members from Texas killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The wall has 648 names on it, including 10 women service members, one from Copperas Cove. The wall was escorted by the Copperas Cove Police Department to the Civic Center on Friday.
SG-VHV paid tribute to members of the group who had passed away with the ringing of the memorial bell and reading aloud of their names before Arthur Bryan played “Taps” on the trumpet.
Soldiers from the Fort Hood Noncommissioned Officers Academy dressed in the different uniforms of soldiers from the Revolutionary War up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a presentation called “I Am a Sergeant”.
The event also paid tribute to soldiers deemed Missing in Action or a Prisoner of War with a table set for one, covered in a white table cloth, with an empty chair and a Bible, black napkin, single red rose, candle with ribbon, slices of lemons, salt on the plate and an inverted wine glass. Each item was symbolic in regards to the POW/MIA soldier, their families and the nation.
Members of SG-VHV recognized the group’s vice president, John Robertson, as the group’s “Veteran of the Year” for 2018.
During the event, master of ceremonies Joe Lombardi read the proclamation by Mayor Frank Seffrood that declared June 23 to be Star Group-Veterans Helping Veterans Day in Copperas Cove.
After the proclamation was read, the mayors of Copperas Cove, Killeen, Harker Heights and Mayor pro tem of Gatesville, along with Texas House of Representatives Rep. J.D. Sheffield, his District Director Gary Kafer and Don Nicholas, the district representative for U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, received a certificate of appreciation for their support from Jonathan Haywood, SG-VHV president.
SG-VHV Executive Director Sheila Timmons said that she thought the declaring of June 23 as SG-VHV Day was great, especially when the people show up.
“That’s awesome that you could get all the different cities and the Congressmen from both sides to make that your day,” Timmons said. “That’s an awesome tribute to everybody, not to any one person.”
Michael Barker, who was cooking outside, said he thought it was amazing that “people that important” took the time to come out and show their support.
Barker, one of the original seven veterans who helped start the group 10 years ago, shared how the idea for an Independence Day Picnic started.
The veterans were meeting at the Harker Heights Vet Center and were going through counseling when their counselor told them that the best way for them to get help was to help others, Barker said.
After being asked to grill and hold a barbeque for veterans for the Fourth of July, they collected money and gathered together food service personnel to cook for anybody who would come. It didn’t matter whether they were a veteran or just somebody down on their luck, he said.
They held the barbeque at Carl Levin Park in Harker Heights for three years before former Copperas Cove Mayor John A. Hull approached Haywood and asked what it would take to bring the group to Copperas Cove. Haywood simply requested a building to house the organization, according to Barker.
The first year saw anywhere from 75 to 100 people, whereas last year’s event saw at least 1,347 people, according to Haywood. Haywood added that he expected this year’s event to more than top that number.
The guests that arrived between 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. received two raffle tickets and had the opportunity to win door prizes. Big raffle prizes included a kayak, a 50-inch flat screen TV and a grill along with other prizes. Outside the Civic Center, kids could enjoy a bounce house or play video games through Rolling Video Games of Killeen. There was also a Veterans Mobile Assistance Van.
The free lunch consisted of barbeque ribs, chicken, sausage and sides such as potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans and bread with sweet and unsweet tea and lemonade for drinks.
As guests waited in line and ate, they were treated to entertainment from the U.S. Korean Culture dance group, the Folkloric group Estrellas de Panama and various singers.
While the event honored veterans and those who lost their lives defending the nation, it was open to the community.
“It’s time for them to be treated,” Haywood said. “They do so much during the week, so much during the day, so much turmoil in our country going on right now and we need to bring all these people together to just enjoy one day without anybody bothering them just for a few hours, because some of them just need to put their feet up.”