National Purple Heart Day is Aug. 7 and this year the local Down East Chapter 639 Military Order of the Purple Heart decided to honor local vets from all branches of the military.
The dinner honoring recipients from Craven, Pamlico and Carteret counties brought out 106 medal winners and a crowd of 700 more supporters at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center.
“We had an overwhelming positive reaction to it,” said Michael Johnson, the event chairman. “The committee, we had over 50 people, will now meet and discuss the pros and cons and decide if there will be a second dinner.”
He added that there were few negatives, mostly logistical details of putting on such a large event.
“Overall, we have had nothing but great feedback,” he added.
David Nelson, the military co-chair with community co-chair Sabrina Bengel, recalled that the group was initially somewhat fearful earlier this year that they would be overwhelmed by undertaking an event of this magnitude.
After a slow start, he said things fell into place and the turnout was actually more than had been originally expected.
“Probably a third of them came forward in the last three weeks,” said Nelson, the commander of American Legion Post 539 in New Bern. “I think it was a very good product and I haven’t heard any derogatory comments. Getting some unsolicited thank you for doing this comments is amazing.”
Nelson was a combat Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
“Talking to a lot of these guys, I could relate to them,” he said. “It was really interesting and satisfying to hear the stories. You would get a Marine and ask where and when did you get it, and a couple of times I was there. I could have hauled one or two of these guys and not known it. You would mention units and places and times and I was familiar with them because as a helicopter pilot we got to fly over the whole area of operation.”
At the dinner, honorees were called individually to the stage and walked and in some cases rode in wheel chairs under raised swords of the New Bern High Navy Junior ROTC.
Honored veterans came from the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
They were roll-called by military conflict, which included 10 total from World War II and Korea; 76 from the Vietnam war; one from the 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut; one from the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing inKenya; 11 from action in Afghanistan and a dozen from the Iraq War.
Also, seven Gold Star Mothers and relatives of deceased Purple Heart recipients were given special recognition.
Nelson said the event was aided by more than 100 volunteers and 47 sponsors who made monetary and services donations. The grand sponsor was Wal-Mart and the community sponsor was CarolinaEast Health System.
A total of 47 sponsors made donations of funds and or services in support of this special event.
There are nine Purple Heart chapters in the state, including the Down East chapter, Jacksonville, Goldsboro, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Lumberton.
Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, firstname.lastname@example.org , on Twitter @CharlieHallNBSJ
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