Asheville – More than three hundred people gathered at the Newbridge Baptist Church (199 Elkwood Avenue) in Woodfin this weekend to honor veterans of America’s wars, reaching back as far as World War II.
“This is our third annual Veterans Day event,” said Associate Pastor Wesley Pike, who helped coordinate the event. “Church members are serving the vets, so they don’t have to get up or wait too long. We serve them to thank them for their service.”
Members of the U.S. Navy Sea Cadet Corps, young men in blue fatigues and caps, escorted vets and their spouses to tables amidst red, white and blue bunting that filled the church’s vast gym.
The church choir performed syncopated patriotic favorites as chicken and tenderloin dinners were served.
“This is simply a Newbridge outreach effort to honor our veterans,” said church Administrator Allen Pounders, who wore a tie ornamented with the Statue of Liberty and a waving flag. “People come from all over: Western North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama. Most attending are Vietnam-era veterans.”
Through dinner, vets reflected on their individual roles and the broader meaning of military service.
“What it takes to make a nation and keep it free – those things are there because there’s a military and people who’ve served,” said Air Force vet and Woodfin resident John Stephenson, standing with his guest, Francis Courage, who was visiting from Kenya.
“The way you guys treat your vets, it’s a blessing. I’m amazed by it,” Courage said.
Following dinner, retired Brigadier General Pat Barrett, from Gadsden, Ala., who, now in his 70s, has seen eight conflicts, spoke about rules of engagement on the battlefield and, citing his Vietnam and Desert Storm experiences, about the difficulties of protecting a population when the American standards of morality grant the enemy enormous freedom.
He spoke about what it takes to win a conflict and how military insight, not politics, should guide decisions.
“We need to ensure anywhere we send soldiers, we don’t tie their hands,” he said.
Wives wore American flag scarves and, at a table ornamented with American flag centerpieces, veterans wore the vests of U.S. Navy submariners studded with patches, silver trim and embroidery.
Jim Secord, from Hendersonville, served on the USS Skate, a nuclear-powered submarine, famed for its daring, from ’65 to ’71. The large “Arctic Circle Blue Nose” patch on his denim vest recalls his service covering the Arctic during the Cold War. The “USS Asheville Base” embroidered on his back represents the pride he still holds for that service and its camaraderie.
“Recognizing all those that served and gave our country freedom – and freedom to other countries who are seeking democracy,” said Seacord, “that’s what evenings like this are all about.”