The Derry Rotary Clubs will once again do what they can for those who gave, or offered, their all.
The Derry Rotary Club and Derry Village Rotary Club will pool their efforts for the sixth annual Veterans Dinner, to be held Thursday, May 28, beginning at 5 p.m. in the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry.
Art McLean, one of the organizers, said the dinner first began when the Rotarians wanted to honor the dwindling number of local World War II veterans. They arranged for a group of veterans to be flown to Washington, D.C., to see their memorial. “It was an Honor Flight before the concept of ‘Honor Flight,’” member Bill Woods said.
They followed with a dinner the next year honoring Korean Conflict vets, then Vietnam veterans, and three years ago threw it open to all area veterans.
“It is open to all veterans, no matter where or when they served, whether currently or at any time,” McLean said. “We honor them with a cookout, music, a gift and a guest speaker.” This year’s keynote speaker is Natalie Healy of Exeter, whose son Dan lost his life while serving as a Navy SEAL.
The dinner is free to veterans and one guest, McLean said. This year’s menu will include steak tips, chicken and shrimp with all the fixings and dessert.
Woods said, “The primary purpose of Rotary is service to others above self. What better match than with veterans?”
Last year the two groups hosted approximately 150 veterans and 100 guests, for a total of 250, Woods said. The event lasts for three hours and takes 50 volunteers to pull off.
The younger veterans are a harder sell, McLean said, because they often don’t join the Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion. “We get a few from Iraq, a few from Desert Storm,” he said. The dinner is more likely to draw the older vets, including one repeat guest, a Pearl Harbor survivor. But he emphasized that it’s open to all.
The Rotarians always give a gift and it’s heartening to see the vets using them, Woods said. He’s seen people around town wearing the fleece jackets or hats that they were given, he said.
The look on the veterans’ faces is the only thanks they need. Woods said, “Three years ago we honored the Vietnam veterans. Some of them were teary-eyed. It was the first time they’d been thanked.”
One man told McLean, “I came home 40 years ago and this is the first time anyone’s thanked me.”
And a member of the Greatest Generation told them the trip to Washington was “the best trip I’ve been on in my life.”
“It is nice to listen to all their stories,” Derry Rotary president Lauren Neves said.
While registration is not required, it is helpful for the Rotarians to get a number to work from. Those interested in attending may call Eddie Leon at 674-8144.