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Honoring all who have served
A color guard formed by members of the Young Marines organization presents the colors as “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays and family, friends, and neighbors honor the U.S. flag June 29 during an annual veterans appreciation event hosted by the White and Whitman families near Floresville.
Annual Independence Day gathering celebrates veterans
FLORESVILLE -- Veterans from all branches of the military filled up on barbecue and dessert -- along with huge helpings of gratitude and appreciation -- all courtesy of one patriotic family and their friends and neighbors.
As South Texas baked in the record-breaking heat June 29, some fortunate veterans basked in the warm welcome offered by the White and Whitman families on their home place north of Floresville.
It all started in 2008, as the children of Jim and Louise White gathered to celebrate their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
“We not only honored and celebrated their amazing life together, but it was also an opportunity to recognize our military family and take time to thank them for their service,” said Cindy Parten. Many members of the family have served in the U.S. military. (See ‘Generations of service’ for more.)
Since then, the family has made its annual gathering a way to honor and remember men and women in the nation’s armed forces, Parten said.
Jim’s daughter, Dorothy “Dot,” and her husband, Hank Whitman, have been instrumental in making this happen. The retired Texas Rangers chief opens up his home and invites family and friends to help recognize and honor those who have served their country so honorably.
Through his connections, the invitation was extended to residents of the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home in Floresville to enjoy the family’s hospitality. Family members then reached out to other veterans and friends, said Theresa Tellez, and the family gathering turned into a barbecue, which has since grown.
Hank and Dot downplay their roles, saying only that they do it all for the veterans who have given so much and it’s an honor to honor them.
For several years, retired U.S. Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has joined the crowd, speaking to the veterans and others who attend.
This year, the Wounded Warrior Project benefited from the event. Nine teams competed in a barbecue cook-off, with the entry fees going to the Wounded Warrior Project. The mouthwatering meats produced by the teams filled the plates of friends, family, and neighbors.
“It takes all of us to make it work,” Theresa said. Family and friends do yard work, clean the pool, set up lights, organize parking, make desserts, deejay, and clean up.”
“I don’t think anyone has set roles,” said Heather Whitman. “But we do tend to gravitate to the same type of duties every year; in the end, everyone is helping each other with whatever needs to get done before the event.”
Next-door neighbors Phil and Georgia Robbins come and help, too.
But no one regards their efforts as work.
“What we do here is nothing, compared to the sacrifices made by our U.S. military personnel and their families,” said Bill White. “It is our honor and privilege to serve them for a change.”
“It’s always such an honor to be here with the veterans,” Georgia said. “If you want to feel like a true American, just stay around here for a while. It’s a pasture full of wonderful people!
And everyone enjoys the results. Who has the most fun?
“I think the kids who show up,” Bill said. “But most of all the veterans of all wars in attendance; for a few hours, they know how proud we are of them, and how thankful we are for the contributions they made during their time of service.”
“We all have a blast!” Theresa said. “This is the most fun time in my life ... not only am I with my friends and family, but I am with the ‘stars’ -- not movie stars, but the stars that served for us and gave us this beautiful country that we live in!”
“I really enjoy seeing the harmony of my family with these veterans,” Jim said. “It’s heartwarming.”
Retired Texas Ranger and family friend Marrie Aldridge helps bring the veterans each year, her mother-in-law among them.
“And the veterans, despite the heat, are outside waiting for me when I get there, 30 minutes before we’re due to leave, because they’re so excited to be going!” she said.
Everyone has favorite memories of the event through the years.
One part of the evening that resonates with all is the roll call of the veterans present, including their branch of service. As their names are called, they gather together. One by one, the yard and patio empty, to fill one space with a host of military men and women, all of whom have given part of their lives to defend freedom. There are few left scattered to applaud them; it’s a gathering of veterans serving fellow veterans.
As they stand together, the strains of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be An American” ring out, and the veterans, no matter how battle-worn, struggle to their feet. Tears well up in the eyes of almost everyone present.
“... despite all they’ve been through and seen, they are still so proud to be Americans,” Heather said. “Their patriotism is both inspiring and contagious.”
And the hardest part of all?
“... the event doesn’t last long enough for our vets,” Cindy said. “They have to leave at a certain time, and we find that it’s difficult to say goodbye!”
“There’s a unique bond and camaraderie that’s formed when you deploy together -- you come from different corners of the U.S., different backgrounds, different upbringings -- but in the end, you’re family -- a military family,” Heather said.
The family members agreed this gathering inspires them.
“Priceless!” is how Theresa feels each year. “Golden!”
Heather said she is “Humbled. Getting to spend an evening with the men and women that have fought and continue to fight for our freedom makes you proud to be an American.”
This was echoed by Bill, who added he is “... thankful to have had an opportunity to serve those who have given so much.”
And as the veterans leave, everyone present gathers for one final honor, a gesture of love and respect that all agree brings a lump to their throats, tears to their eyes, and pride in their hearts.
Led by a contingent of Young Marines from San Antonio, the bus trundles down the driveway, returning its precious cargo to Floresville, and everyone present -- young and old, veteran and civilian -- waves a flag and waves goodbye. And family members who served in the armed forces offer a special recognition at the gate -- from soldier to soldier -- a military salute honoring the sacrifices of those who gave of their lives that families across the country can celebrate Independence Day as it is meant to be: in freedom and gratitude.
Generations of service
The White and Whitman families reflect generations of military service, including:
U.S. Marine Corps: family patriarch, Jim White, retired master gunnery sergeant, 21 years, Korea and Vietnam veteran; Bill White; Hank Whitman, also a retired Texas Ranger; Travis Blaine Whitman, who lost his life serving in Baghdad in 2004, age 24; Carl Martin; family friend Steve Lynch
U.S. Army: Tanner James House; Terry Parten
U.S. Air Force: Warren Parten, retired lieutenant colonel, Vietnam veteran who flew with Air Force One; Jeff Parten, retired; Heather Martin
Attending from the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home: James McTaggart Sr., U.S. Navy; Felix Dworaczyk, U.S. Army; J.R. Nelson, U.S. Navy; Roy Grunewald, U.S. Air Force; Bunny Graham, U.S. Navy; Len Robinson, U.S. Marine Corps; Chelsy Aldridge, U.S. Navy; Charley Applegate, U.S. Army; Bob Regler, U.S. Navy; Joe Jaramillo, U.S. Army
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