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story.lead_photo.caption 2018 FILE: Helias Catholic High School students Nick Schaben, left, and Alex Texreau hold an American flag during the 2018 Wave 'Em If You Got 'Em event. The event is held each year as a sign of appreciation to veterans as they make their way toward St. Martins Knights of Columbus for Veterans Appreciation Night. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

Veterans were the stars at a special event Thursday that goes all out to make sure they know there are people who remember and appreciate what they did for the country.

"Wave 'em if you have 'em" is a portion of Operation Bugle Boy's Veterans Appreciation Night. Operation Bugle Boy is a nonprofit organization that honors veterans, soldiers and first-responders, and it holds the appreciation night every year.

The organization provided a free dinner Thursday night for 500 military veterans and their guests at the St. Martins Knights of Columbus Hall.

The event, which was sold out, honored eight Vietnam War veterans and their families. These veterans represent area men and women who organizers said deserve a homecoming celebration they didn't receive when they returned from Southeast Asia.

Henry Suddarth, from Tipton, was an infantryman/scout serving in Vietnam from 1968-69 and again in 1970-71.

"Any time when I get around veterans, it brings back memories," Suddarth said. "Sometimes those memories are very tough to talk about. Events like this is a bit of healing. It means a lot for people to do something like this. It's a long time overdue. Long time overdue."

Steve Dunn, of Jefferson City, served in the U.S. Army from 1969-71 as combat medic and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

"I try to forget as much as I can," Dunn said. "We saw quite a bit of battle, so that stuff stays with you. I think events like this help us with our process of moving on."

Nancy Maxwell, of Freeburg, was a hospital corpsman at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia. Maxwell said the hospital was the largest amputee center on the East Coast, so they received many of the soldiers returning from Vietnam.

"I was in my early 20s, so it was like taking care of my kid brother because I was working with guys who were 18-20 years old," Maxwell said. "We've kept track of a few that came through, but most we've wondered what happened to them after they left us."

Maxwell said it was an honor to take care of the men and remembered one holiday very fondly.

"One Christmas, myself and couple of the other Waves decided, since the boys couldn't go, so we made sure the boys had a traditional Christmas," Maxwell said. "They had no place to go, so it was fun for them and us."

The veterans and their guests traveled in a motorcade from Candlewood Suites on Amazonas Drive to the Knights of Columbus Hall.

Local residents lined the route, showing banners incorporating yellow ribbons and waving flags with yellow ribbons as the motorcade passed on its way to the event.

The yellow ribbon is symbolic of the nation's thankfulness for the veterans' service.

Lesley Muenks works at Lighthouse Preparatory Academy and helped put flags along Amazonas. Several academy students helped at the dinner, and others were out waving flags on the motorcade route.

"The kids are grades 6-12, and it's important for us to be an example to the students and remind them what those veterans have done," Muenks said. "They have kept our freedoms and our rights. And with our election we had just two days ago, if we didn't have our soldiers, we wouldn't have been able to do that."

Zebediah Miller is 16 and a junior at the academy. Miller had several members of his family serve in the military.

"I just wanted to say thank you for what you've done and protecting this country," Miller said.

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