This month, the Martinsburg VA Medical Center (VAMC) was proud to host “Operation BBQ for our Veterans” a celebration sponsored by the Disabled Veterans Committee on Housing (DVCH) and Knights of Columbus from the State of Virginia in honor of Independence Day on a sweltering cloudless 4th of July.
Volunteers from the Medical Center staff and the surrounding community helped to organize and facilitate a cookout for the patients and anyone else who cared to join. The party was open to the public and almost 1,500 people shared in the festivities.
Among them were members of the Shenandoah Valley Young Marines and Veterans groups from the area. Senator Jay Rockefeller’s and Senator Mark Warner’s office brought warm wishes and messages of thanks to the Veterans in attendance while John Lewandowski, DVCH founder and chairman of the board served as Emcee throughout the event.
The main goal of the event was to say thank you to the hospitalized Veterans at the Martinsburg VAMC and Veterans who work at the medical center. "They don't get recognized, they don't get thanked and don't get anybody to say thank you for what you did for our country," said Lewandowski. "We're all here, we're all free, we're all alive and we're enjoying it thanks to their service."
Entertainment and smiles were provided by Kathy Long and the “Joyful Noisemakers” and several local beauty pageant participants including Spenser Wempe who competed in the Miss America Pageant in 2011 as Miss West Virginia, 2012 Miss West Virginia USA, Andrea Rogers, 2012 Miss West Virginia Teen USA, Elizabeth Sabatino and 2012 Miss Apple Blossom, Kourtney Marie Ginn and Miss West Virginia Outstanding Teem Morgan Hope Breeden. The young ladies visited and signed autographs for Veterans at the event and also visited hospitalized Veterans in their rooms.
The most memorable part of the day was a performance by the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon on the medical center’s parade ground area directly in front of the hospital. The 24-man rifle platoon performed a unique precision drill exhibition. The Marines execute a series of calculated drill movements and precise handling of their hand-polished 10-and-one-half pound, M1 Garand rifles with fixed bayonets. The routine concluded with a unique rifle inspection sequence demonstrating elaborate rifle spins and tosses. The crowd was thrilled with their performance. At the conclusion of the demonstration with the Marines still in formation one of the senior members of the Young Marines was honored with a promotion carried out by the Platoon Commander that drew a huge round of applause from the audience.
Despite the heat index approaching 110 degrees, everyone had a wonderful time celebrating our nation’s birthday and enjoying the sense of community that is always present at the VA.
“We start planning next year’s event tomorrow,” said Lewandowski. “It will be bigger and better.”