By Gail Aldridge, Fort Stewart Community RelationsDecember 12, 2008
FORT STEWART, GA -- Veterans from the Liberty County Veterans Council purchase, prepare and donate fruit baskets annually for more than 300 veteran patients at the Carl Vinson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dublin, Ga.
This year more than 75 Soldiers along with the 3rd Infantry Division Color Guard and the 3rd ID Band traveled with the Veterans Council to help present the fruit baskets, pay honor to their service, visit with them, and present a holiday concert.
The 3rd ID Commander, Major Gen. Tony Cucolo and Marne Division Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse Andrews also visited the patients at the center and enjoyed the captivating musical tribute to the Christmas season. Cucolo greeted the group of veteran patients gathered in the spacious auditorium and thanked them for their service to our country.
"I want to offer three brief messages today," he began. "First, the greatest tragedy is to be forgotten. You deserve to be remembered. We honor you today. We are pleased to be with you," he said. "Second, you will not be forgotten because we know you paved the way, and we are your legacy."
And the third message was that he and the 3rd ID wished the veterns happy holidays. He then turned the program over to Chief Warrant Officer Stephen L. Campbell, 3rd ID band director.
The concert began with a trendy instrumental version of "Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer," after which the concert band divided into small ensembles. First was a three piece woodwind group followed by an eight-Soldier Jazz unit playing special Christmas selections. Next was a five-piece brass assembly and the last special group was comprised of eight talented Soldiers rendering "Rocky's Universal Christmas Rockers."
Specialist Sherry Robinson sang, "O Holy Night," which resulted in a standing ovation and thunderous applause by the audience, to include several of the wheelchair patients. Sgt. Jason McElveen sang, "The Christmas Song," in conclusion.
All feedback from those in attendance was superb.
"This year's concert was exceptional," said Anneliese Knapp, president of Hinesville's American Legion Post 168 Ladies Auxiliary. Paul Spence, Chairman of the Liberty County Veterans Council commented on his feelings seeing the veterans receiving treatment.
"I just love seeing the smiles on the faces of the veteran patients," Spence said. "A military band does so much to cheer these veterans during the Christmas season. This visit and the special honor of giving a veteran a fruit basket puts me in the Christmas spirit. I love shaking their hands and listening to their stories of service."
Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Walker, 3rd ID chaplain, reflected that he liked seeing the interaction between our younger Soldiers and these older experienced combat Soldiers from the Greatest Generation.
"Their stories of military service are inspiring and lend an air of patriotism, moral integrity and faith that is very evident but unspoken," Walker said. "Faith is still an important factor with older veterans."
Henry O'Neal, a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Liberty Chapter 789 said every effort that Fort Stewart makes to support this annual event is so appreciated by the resident veteran patients. And noted they love meeting Soldiers in uniform, talking and interacting with them.
The VA Medical Center staff expressed their gratitude on behalf of the veterans.
"'Thank you' does not convey what our hearts feel for your support. We appreciate your efforts to enhance the Christmas season for our veteran patients. We also appreciate the service and dedication to duty of your Soldiers at Fort Stewart. We appreciate what you do to ensure our freedom," said Janine Cameron, public affairs officer for Carl Vinson VA Medical Center.