There is much about the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that is heartwarming, but surely nothing beats the gratification that comes from serving on the Armed Forces Appreciation Committee. Each year during Armed Forces Appreciation Day, the 160 committee members host veterans and active duty servicemen, servicewomen and their families for a day of barbecue feasting, carnival activities and the rodeo performance.
By the time the barbecue volunteers and the greeters packed it in late Wednesday afternoon, the committee had served close to 4,000 military and their families, many of them arriving by school bus transport.
They came from Ft. Hood, Ft. Sam Houston, Ellington Field and neighboring communities. They represented those from the "greatest generation" of World War II veterans, Vietnam vets, other veterans and new recruits who would be part of the group swearing-in ceremonies later in the afternoon. Among them was Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, who shared his tale of heroism with all who asked. The Marine Corps Marching Band from San Diego flew in to entertain.
Among those greeting the fresh arrivals was 88-year-old World War II veteran Ike Hargraves in full Navy seaman's uniform, medals gleaming.
With assistance from appreciation day sponsor BHP Billiton, the volunteers raise the money to host the troops and their families and have enough left over to support five scholarships. Formed in 2010, the event has grown from originally 500 service people to Wednesday's mega field of visitors.
The action takes place in The Hideout, which from noon to 5 p.m. on this day, becomes party headquarters for appreciation day ceremonies.
In relation to the other committees, Larry Schmiel said, "With the other committees you're raising money for scholarships. This is different. It's like an immediate thing." He added that 60 percent of the men on the committee are veterans themselves.
Among those greeting the fresh arrivals was 88-year-old World War II veteran Ike Hargraves in full Navy seaman's uniform, medals gleaming. Inside the Hideout tent where the barbecue was served and entertainment was on stage among the veterans were WWII vet Roy Hughes and wounded warriors Frank Ellis and Dave Bradshaw.
Among committee members working on this day were Carrie Carr, Tod Fitzgerald, Renee Brown, Carol and Dr. Tom Sawyer, Lee Smith, Todd McCorquodale and Robby Clarkson as well as BHP Billiton volunteers including Arneta Sampson and Cristen Steele.