Red, white and blue lined the streets of west Jefferson City and parts of St. Martins on Thursday afternoon as the community celebrated its veterans and first responders.
Since 2008, Operation Bugle Boy, a local nonprofit recognizing veterans, soldiers and first responders, has led the community’s annual honoring of service members and first responders.
Wave ‘Em if You Have ‘Em, a prelude to the larger Veterans Appreciation Night 2021, brought hundreds out to crowd the sidewalks of West Truman Boulevard to wave American flags and show their support for the veterans procession.
The procession, which brought honored guests to Veterans Appreciation Night, traveled from Candlewood Suites to the St. Martins Knights of Columbus Hall.
Paul Vassos, of Holts Summit, brought his two Boy Scouts to the event, which he said is a good way for the children and scout leaders to honor veterans.
“It helps the cub scouts learn about community pride, about understanding the commitment that others have made to give them the freedoms that they have today,” Vassos said.
The motorcade also caught the attention of local business owners along the route.
Ashley Sturtevant and Cheryl and Sky Custard, who come from a large military family, left their posts at CBD American Shaman to wave flags at the passing motorcade.
Sturtevant said it’s good to show the community supports and cares about its veterans after they’ve sacrificed to support the freedoms of everyone in the community.
“With the rights that we have today, we forget who made it possible,” Cheryl Custard added. “That’s awesome for us to take time to remember it.”
Sky Custard said veterans should be taken care of better, particularly as it relates to mental health care.
After traveling past the waving flags and sounds of car horns filling the air, the veteran procession arrived at a packed Knights of Columbus Hall in St. Martins.
Roughly 345 veterans and their guests attended the Veterans Appreciation Night, which consisted of a Thanksgiving-style dinner and a few displays honoring fallen soldiers.
The evening was marked by a melding of veterans and military-minded young men and women as several local high school students helped serve food and lead ceremonies.
Students from Blair Oaks High School, Helias Catholic High School, Calvary Lutheran High School, Nichols Career Center, Lighthouse Preparatory Academy and Russellville High School helped serve food to the veterans.
Jefferson City’s Boy Scout Troop 11 and the Naval Sea Cadets were also volunteering to lead the presentation of colors and opening ceremonies.
Trumpet players from Jefferson City High School band were present to play taps.
Darren Reuter, a longtime Operation Bugle Boy member, said it’s always nice to see young adults following in the footsteps of their ancestors and learning from past generations.
“With recent events in our country and in Afghanistan, it brings all of us to really worry about where we’re going,” Reuter said. “Having those children here tonight — young men and women, excuse me — it makes me feel a lot better about the direction we’re heading.”
Sophie White, a junior from Blair Oaks, said her school offered the opportunity to participate through a writing contest, in which 19 students were selected.
While older generations might not realize it, White said many young people are interested in military professions and Thursday’s event helped illustrate that.
White said she appreciates that the event offers veterans an opportunity to meet new people and chat with old friends.
Brady Wright, a senior at Helias, said he was approached by a teacher and asked to participate because his father is a veteran, and he gladly accepted the offer.
“I just think that it was important that they knew that our generation definitely appreciates what they’ve done, and I think that definitely shows tonight,” Wright said.
Russellville High School Principal David Volkart said the Veterans Appreciation Night was a good way for students to see how many people in their community have served and give back by serving them for an evening.
“It’s really great to see our kids helping out and willing to serve,” he said. “That’s part of growing up and serving your community, so it’s an honor to get to watch them in this light.”
It’s the first year Russellville High School students have been involved, Volkart said, but he expects it to become an annual tradition.
Ralph Kalberloh, a 96-year-old World War II veteran and prisoner of war from Jefferson City, said he was happy to be able to attend the event another year.
Kalberloh hasn’t missed a Veterans Appreciation Night since they began 13 years ago.
“It’s great to see so many people out and they get to see me alive,” he said. “Most of the people that were in World War II aren’t around anymore.”