MOUNT VERNON — Ten years ago, Knox County veterans began a tradition of meeting annually for a picnic in honor of veterans and their families. Sunday, the event was held at Riverside Park with live music, food and fellowship.
“It’s good to see so many veterans come out with their families,” said Buck Lemon, event co-coordinator. “We always try to encourage the veterans and their families to come out. And even for those families whose members are no longer with them, we welcome them to still come.”
Each year the picnic has over 300 guests participate. Lemon said over the years he’s heard of families and veterans who have found commonalties and gained friendships and mutual support from meeting at the picnic.
“We had two Vietnam veterans come a couple of years ago who both served together in the war. They haven’t seen each other in years, and didn’t even know they lived in the same county until that day. They sat there for hours just talking,” said Lemon. “It’s good to see that.”
“It’s really great to see the World War II veterans come out, but we don’t see many of the younger veterans; we would like to see more,” said Suzie Silliman, event co-coordinator.
Lemon and Silliman both served in the U.S. Army and understand the importance of remembering the veterans.
Support from all parts of the county through volunteers and donations make the event a success.
“I’m grateful for all the community support,” said Silliman. “We had a lot of help this year, more so than any other year. I’m thankful for all the people that volunteered to put this on and helped.”
Local veterans organizations donated funds to support the event and several community businesses contributed door prizes.
The deep-fried chicken was cooked by volunteers from the America’s Freedom Lodge Corp. of Licking County. A classic rock and rhythm and blues band, Autumn Daze, entertained guests. The Knox County Veterans Service Office was also present during the picnic.
A remembrance program was put on by the Rolling Thunder Inc., Ohio Chapter 5, and for five years, it has featured a memorial of Ohio Vietnam POW and MIA from 1955 to 1975.
“People really appreciate the memorial. We usually get a lot of ‘thank you’ and ‘keep up with what you’re doing.’ And we do this to keep the memory alive of those that are missing,” said Frank Schumacher, vice president of the chapter. “This annual event we look forward to each year. This is one of the high points of our summer. We always receive a warm welcome with open arms from the Knox County veterans. I feel honored we are asked to come back each year.”
Visitors had the opportunity to read the names on the wall, remember the sacrifice made for the nation and understand the sacrifice that is continuing to be made by the military men and women in service.
Sarah Jodoin was at the picnic for the first time with her toddler son.
“I’ve never seen the memorial before,” she said.
Jodoin served in the U.S. Air Force from 2000-03.
“As I was sitting down with my son, I explained to him all the things that veterans do for us: We’re able to buy clothes, have friends and eat the foods we want because there are people giving their lives for us,” she said.
Mount Vernon veteran Ron Mason was celebrating his 81st birthday at the picnic, surrounded by family and friends.
“I’m having a great time,” said Mason. “But the best part is missing; the guy with the bull whip is not here this year.”
Mason served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and for many years has come to the picnic.
“The crowd is a little smaller than the year before, but it’s still a good turnout,” he said.
U.S. Navy, Korean War veteran, Joe Metcalf said, “It’s very noisy, but other than that I think it’s all right. I’ve been coming since they started and the food has been good.”
Food included pulled pork, hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, fresh fruit and cake.
“I enjoyed myself down here and am grateful the weather is holding out,” said Kenneth Bryan, Mount Vernon resident. “The food has been excellent and well prepared.”
Bryan comes to support the veterans and remember his family members, now passed away, who have served in the military.
Due to health reasons, Lemon and Silliman will be stepping down from their post as picnic coordinators.
“We’ve enjoyed doing it, but for health reasons we’ll both be getting out of it,” said Lemon. “I just hate to give it up, but I’m not getting any younger.”
For six years Lemon and Silliman have organized the event; if anyone is interested in coordinating it in the future, call Silliman at 393-3985.
“It’s important we pay respect to our veterans for risking their lives for our freedom. I would like to see this continue. We have to take care of our veterans because if not us, who else will?” said Silliman.