Annual Hometown Heroes Community Picnic in Craig pays tribute to veterans |

Annual Hometown Heroes Community Picnic in Craig pays tribute to veterans

Ben McCanna

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 color guard stands at attention as Karen Bolton, 17, sings the national anthem Saturday during the annual Hometown Heroes Community Picnic at Craig City Park.

Despite intermittent rain, the Hometown Heroes Community Picnic soldiered on Saturday.

U.S. Army Ranger veteran Bob McConnell stood at a microphone under a tent at Craig City Park and thanked the crowd for braving the elements.

"This is what we call 'Ranger weather,'" the guest speaker said.

The annual picnic, which coincides with Armed Forces Day, passed its eighth year Saturday.

The community event featured speakers, singers, prayer and free hotdogs and hamburgers for community members.

Hometown Heroes was sponsored by the Craig Daily Press, in partnership with American Legion Post 62, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265, McDonald's, the Craig Lions Club, Brothers Custom Processing, Inc., Northwest Diesel Sales & Service, and Boy-Ko Supply Co.

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Armed Forces Day is a holiday to "honor and acknowledge the people of the Armed Forces of the United States," according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Unlike Memorial Day, which honors fallen servicemen and women, and Veterans Day, which honors those who have already served, Armed Forces Day recognizes active members of America's five military branches, including the U.S. Coast Guard.

Every year, Armed Forces Day is assigned a different theme. This year's theme was "United in Strength."

For speakers McConnell and VFW Quartermaster Larry Neu, Saturday's event was an opportunity to stump for new recruits. First, however, McConnell trumpeted a recent gain in America's ongoing conflicts overseas.

"Just recently, the tip of our spear, in a place called Abbottabad, Navy Seal Team 6 assumed the front position and took out the primary target in our war on terror," he said. "We owe them a great deal of thanks, just as we do all those who preceded them and who will follow them, and what General McArthur, at his farewell address at West Point, called, 'The long gray line,' the unbroken line of men and women going back to the beginning of our country."

Neu, in his speech, said that although the day's traditions began more than 60 years ago, subsequent changes in military recruitment policies make today's servicemen and women particularly worthy of recognition.

"It's been an all-volunteer force now for some 38 years," he said. "They volunteer, put on a military uniform and head into harm's way."

Neu made a plea for a new wave of volunteers.

"As students graduate from high school in these coming weeks, they will be deciding on their future careers," he said.

The Armed Forces, he added, is a tough, yet rewarding option.

"Certainly it is a career that calls for loyalty and love of country," he said. "Those who join know they're not going to be millionaires. They're well aware that promotion will be hard earned. They know they will face the danger of being killed or wounded."

Neu said that despite the risks, the Armed Forces allow young people to travel the world, learn new skills and more.

"Every year, thousands decide to take the chance and are rewarded with a career of camaraderie and the chance to do something worthwhile for their country," he said. "They are living proof that old-fashioned values, such as service to one's country, are not dead.

"There is always a new generation to answer the call."

Neu contends the best way to thank current and past members of the military is to join their ranks.

"Please join me on this special day, Armed Forces Day, and say thank you to those great Americans who proudly served this great nation by volunteering to serve in our military," he said.

But, recruitment may have been a tough objective Saturday. Attendance was light, VFW Commander Mark Wick said.

After the speeches, while food was served from long buffet tables, Wick stood nearby and reflected on previous Hometown Heroes picnics. He said he's been to all of them.

"This is about the poorest attendance we've had, but then again, this is the first weekend that entire City of Craig isn't snowed in and (residents) can go out and do something," he joked.

Wick added that Craig and Moffat County residents are supportive of their veterans.

"We appreciate this. We really do," he said of the event and the community. "Imagine trying to have something like this in San Francisco.

"Both Republicans would show up."

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