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Hundreds of vets, sailors enjoy holiday dinner together at Antioch VFW

Mrs. SantClaus akJan Oerly Antioch assists Rodney Williams Chicago who served both Army Navy is blind veteran who came from

Mrs. Santa Claus, aka Jan Oerly of Antioch, assists Rodney Williams of Chicago who served in both the Army and Navy and is a blind veteran who came from Edward Hines VA Hospital in Chicago to the eighth annual Holiday Dinner for sailors and veterans held at the Antioch VFW. The event was organized by the Lake and McHenry County Tavern’s Association. | FRANK ABDERHOLDEN~SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: January 10, 2014 6:26AM

When the sailors arrived at Antioch VFW Post 4551 for the annual holiday dinner Saturday night sponsored by the Lake and McHenry County Tavern’s Association, volunteers stood and clapped and it was a classy moment.

Then, there was a short wait for a couple of dozen veterans, some completely blind, from the Edward Hines VA Hospital on the south side of Chicago. Their bus got held up, but over 300 sailors waited to start dinner and in a short time their bus arrived.

As those veterans came through the door, the VFW hall echoed as all sailors and volunteers stood and began clapping loudly, never waivering as some of the vets slowly made their way into the hall with assistance and then to their seats. Anyone present could feel the wave of emotion rippling back and forth inside the hall.

“When we were all standing and clapping for the veterans, that was just inspirational,” said sailor Stephanie Buttrick, 18, of Gaylord, MI., who said it was her favorite part of the evening.

Mike Podhorn of Antioch, a Vietnam veteran who was volunteering for the dinner for the first time, felt the same way, though with a twist.

“I think this was great, like I was telling my partner here (Cecily Schinelli of Naperville and a Navy mom), with everyone standing and clapping, it’s more than I got when I came home,” he said. “It was really nice,” he said, and Schinelli agreed that it was very emotional.

She found out about the event from a Navy mom’s Facebook page and signed up. She’s a Navy daughter as well as a mom, her son is stationed in California and she will see him next week.

“We all have kids who graduated from Great Lakes,” she said, “Just seeing their beautiful faces, it helps,” she said, explaining that it’s no substitute for seeing her son, “but it helps, it really does.”

Bill Oerly, The Antioch VFW’s quartermaster, got the first laughs of the night when he pointed out where the bathrooms were and explained how the dinner would be served. Then he said, “And the bar is NOT open,” as people laughed and said “awww.”

They feasted on turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, salad, dinner rolls and dessert. Josh Moulton, 27, of Jackson, MI, could hardly find enough room for it all.

“I would definitely come back if I’m around next year. These people are so generous,” he said.

Three sailor friends, Rochel Villanueva, 18, of Visalia, CA, Maria Romero, 20, of Bonita Springs, FL, and Buttrick of Gaylord, MI, got into the holiday spirit of things by taking pictures of themselves with Mrs. Santa and Santa Claus.

“I’m going to show everyone when I get home,” said Villanueva. “I think it’s pretty cool for then to do this. I feel honored to be here and very appreciated,” she said. Romero loved the food and “I was surprised at how nice everyone is. I asked help and they wouldn’t let me,” she said. Buttrick will also be sending her Santa pictures home. “This has been fun,” she said.

Al Krause said the Lake and McHenry County Tavern’s Association wanted to do something for the community eight years ago and someone suggested something for the veterans. Rita Pavlin, a vice president for the association, said, “a lot of tavern owners are vets. We have a very strong relationship with them.”

They had Paul Herbert, an executive director of the First Division Museum in Wheaton, as a speaker and he teased the sailors that the army was better, but then he explained how Ohama Beach was secured only after the Navy literally ran their ships aground to get the German machine gun nests into range to knock them out. Herbert was impressed with all the hands that were raised when he asked if anyone knew of Doris “Dorie” Miller, since this as the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack. “They’re doing something right on the base,” he said to laughs as he explained the African American was only allowed to be a cook in the Navy, but when the attack came he kept other sailors supplied with ammunition until they were wounded and he took over the 50-caliber machine gun and kept firing at the planes.

“He was the first African American in Navy history to be awarded the Navy Cross,” he said, the highest award in that branch of the service. Herbert, whose son is in the Navy, wrapped up his speech with an important message about the Army and Navy: “Nobody is better. We fight and win our wars together,” he said to applause.

Then he joked about the upcoming Army/Navy football game. “Sure Army has lost the last 11 games, but trust me, it’s not going to be that way forever,” he said before imploring Army to beat Navy.

Carolyn Amendt of Fort Dodge, FA, was part of the Hines contingent and she has been receiving treatment for there for her failing sight. “Thank you so much for having us here,” she told the crowd. “It’s a pleasure for us, thank you so very much,” she continued, then looked like she was going to leave, but she stopped.

“Oh, and Go Navy!” as the crowd roared their approval.

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