Area Veterans Honored at Annual Event
By Jason Jones
GRAPELAND – Thursday provided a beautiful setting for Veterans Day in east Texas. The skies were clear and a cool breeze accompanied the sunshine. Having already attended a Veterans Day program earlier in the morning, the idea of a plate of fried fish and all the fixings sounded like a good idea, so I made my way to Grapeland’s Event Center.
I’ve come to expect a lot of things here in my hometown, so being greeted with warm hospitality and several hugs came as no surprise. Marie Chambers met me at the door. I’ve known Marie since I was a kid, but she didn’t recognize the rather large, bespectacled, graying old guy who occupies my physical being these days. “Are you a veteran sir?” she asked. “Yes ma’am. But I’m mostly here to take pictures and write a story for the Messenger.” It’s a phrase I find myself using a lot these days.
“Jason Jones! I didn’t recognize you!”
This is another phrase that’s become pretty familiar to me. I think it roughly translates to “Wow, you’ve gotten old,” or “wow, you’ve gotten fat,” or something along those lines, but everyone’s far too nice to say it that way.
Grapeland Event Center President Linda Neel caught me a few moments later, again with a hug, and welcomed me. From there it was a little like shampooing: lather, rinse and repeat. It’s honestly one of the best parts of being home. If I was hugged in public in Fredericksburg, Texas it was from someone I brought with me or planned to meet. Here in my very own east Texas, it happens often and at random. I wouldn’t change that for the world.
I arrived in time to watch the room begin to fill. Veterans and their spouses were fed for free and genuinely thanked for their service. Others came to eat and honor their local veterans, and gladly forked over a few dollars to have that opportunity.
I snapped a few photos around the room and circulated through the kitchen. Members of Grapeland Noon Lions were handling the fish fry and serving plates. My dad, Bob Jones, was making sure the ice was on point for drinks. After I got my plate, he came and sat down next to me.
I talk a good game. I can keep up some witty banter for hours. Nobody would ever know if I was “having a moment.” But I have to be honest, sitting next to my dad at a Veterans Day event was big for me. I felt pretty lucky to have the conversation at the table hitting on all cylinders, Otherwise, I would probably have had to explain why my eyes were leaking a bit.
Harry Pridgen and his wife Mary Alice sat down next to us. Harry introduces himself every time he sees me. I think he’s making sure I’ve not lost my mind and thus relieving me of having to stay on my toes. Harry and Mary Alice both complemented my efforts here at the Messenger. I expressed my appreciation, keeping in mind that most of what I write will eventually line the bottom of a bird cage. It’s nice to hear, though. Hopefully I’ll get to stick around for a while.
I heard and saw a lot at the fish fry. Many stories and a lot of laughter. Not much was off limits. Politics, religion, fishing and hunting floated about the airwaves. Glenn Pennington gave me the lowdown on what had happened to his old ‘69 GTO Judge. On the surface it seemed that everything was open for discussion.
Everything except for the military experience.
Jimmy Lockey was relaying his struggles over the past year with eye surgery and a battle with COVID when someone suggested he go to the podium and talk about his military service.
Getting Jimmy to a podium is no challenge. Getting him to tell a story is like shooting fish in a barrel. This seemed like a shoo-in.
“No. That’s all in the past,” he said. “Let’s just keep it there.”
Suddenly I was right back to the reason we were there in the first place. Personally, I signed the dotted line, then had an easy run in the medical field during peace time. Most of my time was as a reservist. Getting through basic training with a case of walking pneumonia was the hardest part of my service. But many men at the Event Center didn’t have the experience I had. Many were deployed during different wars and conflicts. Many did so multiple times. It’s not easy for them to relive or talk about. The current generation of men and women coming back from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan has a disturbingly high rate of suicide because of their experiences. It is a sacrifice of the highest order to serve for many.
Veterans Day is a big deal. I can’t make myself see it as a holiday. It’s simply not the right word. Veterans Day is a day of honor. It is also a day I wish was every day.
Thank you, Grapeland Event Center. Thank you, Grapeland Noon Lions Club. Your efforts are greatly appreciated. Mostly, though, thank you Veterans for your service and your sacrifice. It’s an honor to share a table with you.
Jason Jones may be reached via email at email@example.com