black and gray microphone

Honoring Veterans, in Their Own Words

Our November Muster & Mingle was a rousing success! The meal was a carry-in, following several requests for a potluck dinner. We almost didn’t have enough room for all the goodies! From homemade scalloped potatoes to banana pudding trifle, there were so many options to choose from.

After dinner, we were honored to host a Quilt of Valor presentation ceremony. The Quilts of Valor Foundation (QOVF) is a national organization founded in 2003 by “Blue Star” mom Catherine Roberts. With a son deployed in Iraq – a gunner sitting atop a Humvee – she felt ten seconds away from panic 24 hours a day, every day. It was during that time her son was deployed that she conceived the idea of comforting veterans with quilts. Quilts are presented to veterans touched by war, and the Miami Valley Quilters Guild has presented over 350 quilts in the Miami Valley since 2018. The Miami Valley Quilters Guild presented 5 quilts to veterans who attend our Muster & Mingle event. This is the second time we have hosted the MVQC (they did a Quilt of Valor presentation during our March event at the Troy Library), and they are an absolute joy to work with every time. The honor and reverence with which they present the quilts, wrapping them around the shoulders of the veterans, speaks to their devotion to honoring these men and women. Honored tonight were Jerry Fidler, Roger Jones, Steven Mullkin, Fred Shellenberger, and Christina Webb. Thank you all for your service to our country!

For the final part of the evening, we truly felt like we saved the best for last. We held an ‘Open Mic Night’ and invited veterans to tell their stories, whatever that looked like to them. We had 14 veterans and 2 caregivers decide to share stories, and we were honored to share laughter, emotion, and memories with them.

Our treasurer Mel went first, sharing his memories of being an Army clerk stationed at Ft Knox during the Vietnam War. He had us all laughing when he told us that he ended up being ‘sold’ to another command for 15 pounds of Army coffee! The original offer was only 5 pounds though, so he is proud that his college degree and work ethic helped his original CO earn that extra 10 pounds.

Paul shared next, opening up about the battle where he earned his Purple Heart. He told us about low crawling to safety, not realizing how badly he had been hurt. He was presented his Purple Heart medal by Lyndon B. Johnson himself! He also told us that when he ended up separating from the military, he was unable to get issued a DD-214, since they had him listed as deceased!

Jerry told us a about the time he found himself in Japan on July 20, 1969. A Japanese gentleman walked up to him with a bottle of rice wine sake and began talking to him earnestly. Finally the bartender intervened and told Jerry “He wants to drink with you.” Not one to turn down a free drink, Jerry agreed. Right before they would take a shot, the man would yell something about apples, wave his arms in the air, and take a shot. After awhile, Jerry realized that the man was celebrating the Apollo Landing with him, which was confirmed when he gave Jerry a special coin printed by the Japanese government, with the words ‘One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind.’ in English on the front and in Japanese on the back. He also passed around some sand from the beaches at Iwo Jima, and everyone marveled at how black and coarse it was. We were all very aware of the history we were holding in our hands.

Jerry’s wife Regina joined him upfront and their shared their experiences traveling with Logan County Vets to DC, a trip that they took in September. They raved about the trip, encouraging other veterans to go if they were able.

Navy veteran Chris Webb shared the story of how she met her husband, fellow Navy veteran Adam. She teased that he ‘got a cruise for a honeymoon’ because of an ill-timed deployment. She also shared (on Adam’s behalf) about his experience as a bone marrow donor for a complete stranger. The odds of that happening are so rare, they have a better chance of being struck by lightening! Adam did also share a story of being told by an officer to “Never marry a Bosain mate” and getting a laugh when that commander found out he already had!

Larry shared some jokes with all of us, and shared his experiences of being stationed on an ironside destroyer. He was on the USS Morton, and provided gunfire support for the 12th Marine Regiment near the DMZ.

Next to speak was Ken, who while not a veteran, comes from a proud military history and has spent several years collecting oral histories from vets to compile into a book. He shared some stories from Jim ‘PeeWee’ Martin and Vincent Speranza. He wants to share these stories, from WWII, Vietnam, and Korean veterans as much as he can, so that they are not lost to history.

Ted got us all laughing when he shared the story (after a little prompting!) of how his Navy cruise jacket came to be adorned with a pink monkey. It involves a group of sailors, whose duty post was 180 ft below water on an aircraft carrier, rough seas, and running out of Pepto Bismol. He also talked about his experiences on the USS Kittyhawk and the capture of the USS Pueblo, a ship which North Korea now uses as a propaganda filled “museum”.

Josh shared his appreciation for all his fellow veterans sharing the room (and stage) with him, and told us about the meatballs his grandfather would serve them as kids, calling them ‘Army Meatballs’ even though he was pretty sure they were just meatloaf shaped like a baseball. He also told us about pranking the officers during his EOD training.

Steve shared a story about a late night while he was serving as an LPO on the USS Virginia that led to weeks of teasing from his sailors. It’s a colorful story, but we will say that it includes some adult beverages, a woman in a swimsuit, and Steve running for his life after she overheard a less than complimentary comment he made about her.

James shared about his experiences serving in peacetime, and thanked everyone who had attended. He also encouraged those present to invite friends to join them, as he really got a lot out of our events and wanted others to experience that too.

Fred talked about learning to drive a semi for the military, without any actual training! He also shared with us the only time he’s ever been busted speeding by radar – while he was driving over in Vietnam! He didn’t get in any trouble though, his CO simply telling him “Did you tell him that we are at war?”

Our final speaker of the night was Walt Cooper. He shared with us his family’s deep ties to the military and about serving in Turkey during Operation Desert Storm. He also showed us a tattoo he got to honor his grandfather, Alfred Cooper.

All in all, our Muster & Mingle was a great event and we are so honored by all of those who decided to share their stories. We will not be having a Muster & Mingle on December 28, but you can join us at our Santa’s Sweet Shop on Saturday December 17 at the Tipp Center. More information can be found here.

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