Guardsmen to serve as 'battle buddies' for veterans at Saturday picnic

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- The current generation of Soldiers will meet Soldiers from earlier generations on Saturday when the state's National Guard participates in the Missouri Veterans Home first-ever resident/family picnic.

The 150 veterans from across military branches will be matched up with current Citizen-Soldiers with the 1140th Engineer Battalion's Forward Support Company. The picnic is for residents, family members and guests only, but a free concert by Caney Creek at 2 p.m. is open to the public, said Debbie Monroe, supervisor of volunteer services at the Veterans Home. More than 500 people are expected to attend the event, she said.

"It will be good for the veterans to spend some time with the young Soldiers," Monroe said. "And I think it will be good for the younger Soldiers to spend some time with these veterans who have given so much to their country. So it seemed like the National Guard and our picnic went hand-in-hand."

Readiness noncommissioned officer Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Allred agreed. He saw it as an opportunity for the Soldiers to show respect to those who served in the military. About 60 Soldiers from the Forward Support Company will be setting up tents on Friday, he said. During the picnic Saturday, the veterans and Soldiers will be paired up so the Soldiers can push the Veterans who are confined to wheelchairs, help them get their meals and spend time getting to know one another.

"I imagine some of the veterans' stories will hit our guys right in the heart," Allred said. "It should be a real meaningful day. It's going to be a real neat event for us and them."

When First Sgt. Haskel "Woody" Rooker heard about the opportunity, he said his response was: "Cool, let's do it."

But he recognized it as a rare opportunity to honor a large number of veterans who paved the way for the Soldiers of today.

"We also owe them a huge debt as a country," Rooker said. "So if we can help them and get to know them on Saturday, it's the least we can do."

Rooker said he wants the Soldiers to especially be there for veterans who may not have family in attendance at the picnic.

"Maybe for that day, we can be their family," Rooker said. "We'll be their battle buddy for the day. We want to spend some real time with the veterans. They can tell war stories if they want to. The big thing to me is to show those guys some appreciation for what they've done for us."

Of the 150 veterans at the Veterans Home, 83 are World War II veterans, 38 are veterans of the conflict in Korea, 18 served during the Cold War era, 11 served in Vietnam and two served in Desert Storm.

"We hope to do this every year," Monroe said. "But it's looking to be a great day for everyone. I think everyone here is really looking forward to it."

For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-800-GoGuard or visit


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