The clouds broke just before 11 a.m. Saturday, bathing a slab of concrete in Craig’s City Park in spring sunshine.
The slab, which once was the foundation of a local Boy Scouts hut, was frequented in the 1950s by a young William E. Adams. Adams, an Eagle Scout, grew up to be an Army pilot and eventual Medal of Honor recipient for heroic actions in Vietnam.
On Saturday, the slab played home to part of the annual Hometown Heroes Community Picnic, an event hosted in honor of those who served their country.
An estimated 400 people turned out to celebrate heroes of all generations.
They celebrated veterans who never returned from war like Adams, and those who did, like World War II veteran Ray Wagner, who attended Saturday.
They also celebrated the next generation of men and women to serve their country, like 22-year-old Maggie Blackstun, who will graduate from the Air Force Academy next week and be commissioned as a second lieutenant.
“We have a family history of going to military academies,” Blackstun said. “And I wanted to serve my country in some way. Service is important to my family.”
She said she’s made it to Hometown Heroes during each of her four years at the academy.
“I always love it,” Blackstun said of mingling with older veterans. “I love to hear the stories people bring.”
The Craig Daily Press, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 and McDonald’s sponsored the event, and a free lunch was provided with support from the Craig Lions Club, Brothers Custom Processing, the VFW Ladies Auxiliary and the Elks Lodge.
Sound equipment was provided by the 1340 Band.
Winners of the Patriotic Artwork and Essay Contest were announced, and first-grader Joelle Kenney and fourth-grader Cody Pleasant read their pieces in front of the crowd.
Artwork winners Julia Chavez and Lane White also accepted their awards at the picnic.
After the awards, VFW Commander Mark Wick and his fellow post members wandered the crowd and passed out American Flags to eager children who waited in line for lunch.
“I love seeing all these kids with their flags,” Wick said. “They ask me for one and then they say, ‘Thank you.’ I love it. I think they’re starting to learn the value of the flag.”
He said some of the young people at the event would soon replace them as the country’s veterans.
“I can’t wait until we get replaced by the youth,” he said. “I want to be put out to pasture.”
He said it is the VFW’s job to connect with the younger generation of servicemen and women and inform them of their rights and benefits when they return home.
“It will be a nice, even transition,” he said.
But, he hopes Blackstun and her generation will be given something he and his fellow Vietnam veterans were not afforded — a proper welcome home.
Wick said he feels Hometown Heroes fills a part of the void left by war protesters who greeted his and other soldiers’ return from Vietnam more than 30 years ago.
“This is like our welcome home parade,” he said, of the event. “It’s all a part of the healing process.”
Veteran Mike Pickering said he experienced the same issue when he returned home from Vietnam.
“I needed to do it,” Pickering said, of his service. “I wasn’t worried about what other people thought.”
Across from him at a picnic table, his neighbor and friend, Stephanie Beckett, said her family had a history of military service.
“It’s nice to get out into the community and let the kids play,” she said. “It’s a great event.”
For Wick, from the children who read their patriotic essays in front of the crowd to the teenagers about to enlist in the service, he saw the younger generation’s presence as hope for the future.
“I see it as hope that they will step up when it’s their turn,” he said.