Many celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day once a year.
For some, however, remembrance is a never-ceasing mission that continues to endure.
“My Memorial Day is every day, because I think about a lot of these guys who lost their lives over there (in Vietnam),” said 78-year-old Sugar Land resident Lonnie Didway.
Didway, who served in the U.S. Army from 1960-83, said his service took him to Hawaii, Thailand, Korea, Alaska and Germany during the height of the Vietnam War. And though he became a combat engineer instructor at Fort Riley in Kansas in 1964 and never set foot in Vietnam, he said he carries the war with him to this day, because it claimed the lives of some of his friends and his platoon sergeant.
“I never spent time there, but I’ve listened to a lot of the war stories,” Didway said.
Oftentimes, he said only veterans can understand the plight of time spent in combat or even war zones in peace time. An upcoming annual community luncheon hosted by Sugar Land State Farm agent Jeremy Adams provides veterans such as Didway a chance to visit with those who know their stories best.
During the fourth annual Veterans Day luncheon, scheduled for Friday, Adams’ office at 9722 Hwy. 90A in Sugar Land will close all day for food, dessert, drinks and fellowship. Upon taking over his Sugar Land State Farm branch in July 2015, Adams immediately discovered that two of the branch’s longest-tenured policy holders were military veterans – sparking an idea he said is rooted in a lifelong military appreciation.
Adams was born and raised near Fort Polk in Vernon Parish, Louisiana, where he said new kids transferred in with their parents every school year.
“I was just raised in an environment to appreciate veterans, because that’s why we’re here today,” Adams said. “We have the freedoms we have because of the
people that sacrificed their lives and time for us. I’ve always had a strong patriotic appreciation for what those people have done.”
One of Adams’ policy-holding veterans is 71-year-old Sugar Land resident Wesley McGlory, who served six years in the Air Force while stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in South Vietnam and Lackland Air Force Base outside San Antonio. He has attended Adams’ event every year since its inception in 2016.
“(This luncheon) is one of the best things that could ever happen,” McGlory said. “(Jeremy) is a good guy, and he loves to represent the veterans. It gets better every year. It makes me proud to meet other veterans and tell our stories about our journeys, how we were treated and how we feel about it. A lot comes out of it.”
Initially, McGlory said, some veterans were reluctant to talk at the first gathering. But that reluctance has since given way to a flood of memories and fellowship.
“I couldn’t meet everybody, but the ones I was able to talk to, it was really nice,” said 91-year-old Marine Corps veteran Ray Jones, who served in the Korean War and attended the luncheon for the first time last year. “I enjoyed it.”
The sentiment was echoed by 51-year-old Sugar Land resident Vernon Pyles, a Navy veteran. He has fond memories of training in Great Lakes, Illinois, before shipping out to Bremerton, Washington. He spent three years on the U.S.S. Nimitz.
“Everybody has (a story), and it’s interesting to hear things they’ve witnessed and gone through and how they overcame different obstacles,” Pyles said. “These types of things allow veterans opportunities to express themselves, because they’re able to communicate and relate to the men and women who have gone through similar things and experiences. It’s easier to talk to someone who can really relate to what you’ve gone through or are going through in combat situations or peace time. It’s a camaraderie, and an experience like none other I’ve witnessed. I wouldn’t change it a bit.”
Neither would Didway, who said the luncheon is a symbol of a greater appreciation for the years gone by.
“People see my hat and thank me for my service. I respond by saying thank you for their support,” he said. “When I was serving in the Vietnam era, it was a very unpopular war. There’d be people cussing me out and spitting at me. (Veterans now) are respected a lot more and thanked for their service, and that does a lot for their morale.”
In Adams’ mind, it’s not charity. He’s simply giving veterans the respect he feels they deserve and attempting to honor their sacrifice.
“You can feel and see how much they appreciate it,” he said. “It’s just a special time.”
The veterans appreciate Adams’ efforts. Even though the memories of his friends can be painful, Didway said fellowship eases the pain and keeps their memories alive.
“That’s a memory that stays with me even though I never served over there (in Vietnam),” Didway said. “These guys were my friends, and I think of them quite often. You think about it a lot.”
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