More than 100 veterans came together June 6 for an appreciation dinner hosted by the Tri-City Elks.
The free dinner featured upwards of four dozen volunteer cooks, servers and dish washers from various neighboring non-profit organizations.
And while Lodge No. 14 was filled with music and merriment, Albert “Cookie” Delory and his wife Joyce, and friends Mike and Cheryl Scanlon, reflected on the landing of allied troops on the beaches of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
The late General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory” as more than 100,000 soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Adolph Hitler’s German army.
“If your heart doesn’t swell up when you see all the American flags there,” Delory said, “there’s something wrong. I wasn’t in the service, but we all got very emotional on the beach [in Normandy]...”
Lodge 14’s banquet facility was decked out in red, white and blue streamers, centerpieces, colored table coverings and different size American flags affixed to the walls.
In the middle of it all was Mark Eaton, Lodge 14’s exalted ruler, who, along with attendees, observed a moment of silence for current and former United States troops.
Eaton said, “Over 190 hours of time went into this dinner and I’m personally proud that we had 21 Elks helping out in a number of ways.”
“This is a special event for some mighty important people,” said Carl Heintzelman, a former United States Air Force officer who narrowly missed serving in Vietnam and was among the many people who enjoyed the all-you-can-eat dinner. “This was special ... great food, great people and a great night for all veterans.”
The Pledge of Allegiance was given by SFC Ronie Simonsen, one of three United States Army officers who added pageantry to the dinner. The other officers were S6 First Sergeant Martin Contreras of the U.S. Army/RI Recruiting Company and Company Commander Capt. David Flores.
“You don’t have to agree with these conflicts and wars,” Eaton said. “But you do have to support them. And for that, we thank you!”
The night was well received by all attending veterans, like Joseph Machado of West Warwick who served with the U.S. Army 2nd 506 Delta Company/Air Mobile in Vietnam and was later awarded three Purple Hearts.
Fred Kenyon, a disabled Vietnam veteran who was a U.S. Army combat engineer in the Mekong Delta for one year back in 1970, added, “This is a warm and beautiful event. It’s nice to see people go all out like this; it makes all of us feel special.”
In yet another impressive show of support, the Here Again Band that played continuous music during the Vets Appreciation Dinner and agreed to play for a small fee, announced that it was foregoing that money and donating it back to the Elks Lodge Veterans Fund.
“That band is great,” said Ernie Battey, president of the Little Rhody Boat Club, who helped cook pasta. “This night was special; a great community effort to honor all our valuable veterans.”
Other Little Rhody Boat Club members who volunteered were Bill White, Ving Morento, Jay Gifford, Dick Morento and Eaton, the club’s vice president.
The Oakland Beach Fire Company and American Legion also provided manpower while the Emblem Club No. 1 provided volunteer servers.
“We’re proud to be part of this great night,” said Fay Lovejoy, Emblem Club’s president who was accompanied by Nancy Ducharme, the first Grand Marshal. “We sort of fit the night’s theme; our group was the first Emblem Club and was formed in 1917.”