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Winthrop Harbor VFW brings sailors aboard for holiday celebration

Recruits chow down turkey ham dinner prepared by Winthrop Harbor VFW. | TinJohansson/for Sun-Times Media

Recruits chow down on the turkey and ham dinner prepared by the Winthrop Harbor VFW. | Tina Johansson/for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 22, 2014 4:44AM

Some of the youngest sailors at Naval Station Great Lakes were treated to a Christmas Party, including a meal and entertainment at VFW Post 7448 in Winthrop Harbor on Saturday — a tradition that has been going on for 14 years.

Riding Zion-Benton High School buses, the sailors arrived amidst flags flying and sirens blaring. Members of the Warriors Watch organization helped lead the way, and at the front of the procession was Richard Coombe, past state commander for the VFW who was in his specially-decorated Buick.

A Purple Heart veteran who served several tours of duty in Vietnam while in the U.S Army, Coombe explained what the décor on his car was all about.

“I had this done for everybody in the service,” said Coombe pointing to the names of those who fought and died in battle.

Inside, veterans and Ladies Auxiliary members were eager to feed the 40 newly graduated recruits to a Christmas meal of roast turkey, baked ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and dessert.

Desserts were plentiful, including cakes of all kinds, pies, and cookies baked by Auxiliary members. Karen Wagner, Auxiliary photographer, said she helped cook turkeys and decorate the hall with the others.

Past Post 7448 Commander John Korpi of Zion pitched in by making toast for stuffing in a commercial toaster, which was a unique endeavor. “We used 10 loaves of bread,” he said.

Korpi’s wife Marti, an Auxiliary member who gave the blessing before the meal explained, “We are trying to provide a bit of home for (the sailors). For a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever spent Christmas away from their families.”

“Because they can’t go home for Christmas, we want them to feel like this a home away from home,” said Wilma Pavin, Ladies Auxiliary chaplain and head of the kitchen.

The recruits seemed to appreciate the holiday feast just as much as the ones who prepared it. Lena Natta, who hails from the Virgin Islands, was pleased. “They didn’t have to do this, but I’m sure glad they did,” she said. “It’s better than going to the galley.”

Matthew Henry of Seattle agreed. “This is wonderful. I’m so thankful that they are doing this for us. This is the first time I’m not able to spend Christmas with my family.”

After dinner, guests enjoyed entertainment, including karaoke and skits from the Funny Little People. They were also given gift bags to take back to the base. Auxiliary President Wanda Narup said the VFW would be packing up 40 meals for sailors unable to attend the party.

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