For 30 years, American Legion Eric V. Dickson Post 1980 in Woodland Park, Colo., has hosted a Veterans Day dinner at a local venue, inviting Teller County veterans, active-duty military, National Guardsmen and reservists, and their family members.
For Post 1980 Commander Dan Williams, cancelling this year’s dinner wasn’t on the table. Because, Williams said, for many of the attendees it’s much more than a dinner.
“This county’s probably got about 6,000 (veterans) in it, which is pretty high for a small county. It’s around 20 percent,” Williams said. “And my experience, and I’ve been the commander there for six years, is that (the Veterans Day dinner) is the one time of the year folks come out of the hills that you never see, that aren’t really super involved in anything. The widows come out, the Gold Star (families) and all that.”
Williams said the event has drawn as many as 500 attendees, but rules regarding large gatherings wouldn’t allow for that this year. So instead of having one large meal, Post 1980 set up two dinners – 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. – in order to safely continue the tradition.
This year’s event was moved to Shining Mountain Golf Club, where tables were spaced far enough apart for proper social distancing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines were followed. Williams said that while the post’s American Legion Family traditionally prepares the barbecue meal, this year’s was catered. “We have a vulnerable population,” he said. “We’re right there with our Vietnam vets being 75 and 80 (years old) now. So we wore the masks … and followed all the guidelines."
Despite adapting this year’s Veterans Day event to the pandemic, Williams said around 250 people still were fed dinner during the two seatings.
In addition to a meal, there also is a brief ceremony that includes a speech from Williams and other speakers, the POW-MIA ceremony and the playing of Taps. This year’s 5 p.m. dinner also included the reading of a Vietnam veteran’s poem that Williams said didn’t leave a dry eye in the banquet room.
“First and foremost, we want to honor the veterans,” Williams said. “They come from all over the county, and their families and their widows. The second thing is it’s a chance for the community to – generally represented by elected officials – to come and shake hands and meet folks they normally wouldn’t see. So it really honors (the veterans) and they really feel good about it.
“(The participants) are very, very appreciative. You get everything from tears and hugs, to hearty handshakes, to a salute to ‘thank you so much for doing it.’ It’s our honor to do it.”