Flags flew and veterans were thanked for their service Wednesday at a special drive through Veterans Day celebration outside the Mann-Grandstaff Veterans Administration Medical Center.
“COVID-19 is not going to stop the American veterans from recognizing each other,” said medical center spokesman Bret Bowers. “This is a small way we can show our appreciation and show we care.”
The medical center decided that because of the pandemic, a drive-thru event was best this year in lieu of the usual Veterans Day celebration at the Spokane Arena. “We thought twice about that,” Bowers said. “This is going to lift the veterans’ spirits. We need it this year.”
Several community groups spent part of the morning Wednesday in the medical center parking lot handing out information on resources available to veterans. Second Harvest Food Bank was on hand with volunteers to hand out more than 200 25-pound boxes of food.
Red Cross volunteer Art Meikel was handing out comfort bags, which contained toiletries, candy and stress balls. “I got mine in ’69,” he said. “It had cigarettes in it.”
Meikel served in Vietnam in 1969-1979 in the Air Force as a Bird Dog pilot, flying a small Cessna airplane to provide reconnaissance, targeting and artillery support services. He said he was happy to be able to help his fellow veterans.
“They’ve given everything,” he said. “You need to support the guys who supported me when I needed it.”
Meikel and other volunteers told the arriving veterans “Thank you for your service” as the cars streamed by. Other veterans, along with a few children, carried American flags as they walked back and forth next to the waiting cars. Patriotic music blared loudly over the sound of idling car engines.
WorkSource was there to hand out information about employment opportunities. The Vet Center and Grand Canyon University were also handing out information.
The drive-thru was open from 10 a.m. to noon. At times the cars were few and far between and at other times a line stretched across the parking lot. Bowers said he used social media to spread the word about the event. “The great thing about veterans is it doesn’t take long to get the word out once we start flapping our gums,” he laughed.
There was a minute of silence at 11 a.m. and everyone paused to lower their heads as flags were raised high. Shortly after the national anthem played, a helicopter from the 36th Rescue Squadron stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base did a flyby overhead. However, the helicopter could only be heard, not seen, because of the low clouds and lingering morning fog.
Some elected officials stopped by the event, including Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward and U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
“This is an important day to honor our veterans who have put on the uniform,” McMorris Rodgers said. “It’s a celebration of those who have served.”
McMorris Rodgers said she thought it was important to have a Veterans Day celebration this year. “2020 has been a tough year,” she said. “This is Veterans Day, COVID style.”
Bowers said he was pleased with the number of veterans who came out and happy the medical center could make their day brighter. “We don’t want to put anyone at risk,” he said, “but look at their faces.”
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