By BOB GIBBINS
This is the time of year when Cherokee County residents and those around the country honor those who have served and are serving the country in the U.S. military.
For 23 years, a local group has recognized area veterans with the Veterans Appreciation Banquet. The event was started by Chimp Robertson, a former Tahlequah resident, and continued after Robertson left town by Alex Borowski, Sheila Ratliff, Cynthia Rhyne and others.
The most recent banquet, held Saturday evening at Restaurant of the Cherokees, featured Bonnie Harper, a Gold Star mother. A Gold Star Mother is one who has lost a son or daughter in combat.
Harper’s son, William Joe (B.J.) Beardsley was killed in Iraq Feb. 26, 2007. She urged all those in attendance to keep American servicemen and women in their prayers. She said families of soldiers sacrifice, too.
“They [soldiers] put themselves in harm’s way without hesitation,” she said. “They often miss first breaths, words, holidays and birthdays.”
Harper said, this month, there are still 83,000 soldiers and civilians considered missing in action. She asked that people remember those who have served and are serving “not just today, but every day.”
“There is a price for freedom,” she said.
Debbie Lipscomb represented Blue Star Mothers. The group is a support organization for armed services personnel and their families. She said the local group supports 29 soldiers by sending them packages each month.
“It’s an honor to serve,” she said. “It’s the least I can do. What we offer is like hugs from home.”
A presentation by Dee and Jack Hedlund has become a staple at the banquet in recent years. The Hedlunds have an American flag from 1896, when the country had only 45 states, and they display it while a recording of Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” plays. Dee’s grandfather had the flag. He and Jack are veterans.
State Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, read a state proclamation authored by himself and State Rep. Mike Brown, who was also in attendance. Wilson, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, thanked all veterans in attendance and said he believes Oklahoma does more for veterans than any other state.
“You merit our deepest respect,” he said.
Veterans were recognized by eras, dating from World War II to the present.
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