Guardsmen spend time, share stories with elderly Veterans at picnic

Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Sgt. Amy Shremp dances with a Veterans Home resident Saturday at a picnic in which veterans were paired with younger Soldiers. (Photo by Sgt. Heather Weimer)

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- On Saturday, Spc. John Reeves came face to face with a walking military history lesson named Melvin Biester.

Reeves said the encounter left him with an even deeper appreciation for an earlier generation of Soldiers who "paved the way" for those who followed.

"I got to listen to stories about Normandy, France and Italy -- all the World War II stuff," Reeves said after spending the afternoon with Biester, of Cape Girardeau. "It was a great experience for everybody."

There was a lot of listening going on Saturday at the Missouri Veterans Home's first ever resident/family picnic. The 150 Veterans from across military branches were matched up with current Citizen-Soldiers with the 1140th Engineer Battalion's Forward Support Company.

The 38 Soldiers spent their Friday afternoon setting up tents and Saturday spending time with the Veterans who have served in every major military conflict since World War II. The men and women of the 1140th shared meals with the Veterans and listened to a live band during the picnic.

"It's always neat to hear the stories about what they've done and where they've been," said Spc. James Wilson, of Cape Giradeau. "They seemed real excited for us to be there. They were happy to relax for a day. A lot of the time, we just sat and talked."

Readiness noncommissioned officer Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Allred said the picnic presented an opportunity for the Soldiers to show respect to those who served before them.

"I imagine some of the Veterans' stories will hit our guys right in the heart," Allred said. "It was a really meaningful day."

First Sgt. Haskel 'Woody' Rooker also said it was 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, it's the least we can do. 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 the Veterans of the Korean War, 18 served during the Cold War era, 11 served in Vietnam and two served in Desert Storm.

Sgt. Scott VanGennip of Leopold got to know a Marine Veteran who served in World War II.

"He said he was at every beach in the Pacific," VanGennip said. "He was real soft spoken until we got to talking about the war. He was one of the few survivors from his unit. He was so humble. When he heard I was in Baghdad, he said I probably had it worse than he did. I said 'Probably not.' He wasn't a guy looking for a lot of credit. It was an awesome day."

More than 500 people attended the event overall, said Debbie Monroe, supervisor of volunteer services at the Veterans Home. She hopes to have the event every year, saying it was good for the Veterans to spend time with younger soldiers.

"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," she said. "So it seemed like the National Guard and our picnic go hand-in-hand."

Reeves was so moved by the experience, he said he's even decided to volunteer one day a week at the Veterans Home.

"We have a lot to learn from them if we just open our ears and shut our mouths," said Reeves, who lives in Whitewater. "They have some stories to tell, if only they can find somebody who will listen. I'm going to be doing a lot more of that. They deserve that from us."

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


For more information about this release, please contact Scott Moyers at 573-339-6237 or at

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: