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Arlington's ‘Take a Vet to Lunch’ honors former, current service members
ARLINGTON — Area veterans were honored for their years of service while reflecting upon the sacrifices of those currently serving at the “Take a Vet to Lunch” event Sept. 13.
Event organizer and Vietnam veteran Bob Rawe thanked the Arlington Assembly of God Church for hosting the meal, which served close to 100 veterans and just as many civilians, with the civilians sponsoring the veterans’ meals.
With food, table decorations and raffle items donated by community members, Rawe was free to focus on the veterans themselves, paying tribute to their contributions to their country in his opening speech.
“Not everyone carried a rifle or flew an airplane,” Rawe said. “No one went to war to earn a bunch of shiny medals. Some may not wish to speak of their experiences. Mostly, veterans will tell you that they just did a job that needed doing, and that the real heroes didn’t come home. Well, folks, heroes are heroes because they risked something important to help others.”
Rawe then thanked the civilians in attendance for supporting the event and asked them to consider how they could continue to help veterans.
Fellow Vietnam veteran James Mead, serving as master of ceremonies, delivered the traditional remarks on behalf of those who were prisoners of war and those still missing in action, beside the empty chair and table meant to mark their absence.
Washington state’s First Gentleman Mike Gregoire shared his memories of receiving his draft notice in the mail, during his finals week in college, before he completed his basic training in 1968.
“We were part of Nixon’s Vietnamization,” Gregoire said. “Everybody’s military experience shapes them and everybody’s military experience is different.”
Gregoire boasted that Washington state is home to roughly 700,000 veterans, and urged those in attendance to reach out to veterans in need, with jobs, counseling or education.
During the meal that was prepared by Rawe’s family, Gregoire shared a table with Oak Harbor resident and fellow Vietnam veteran Bob Fiorito Sr., whose daughter-in-law Myrna was his guest for the evening. For the Fioritos, the evening was doubly significant, since Myrna’s husband, Bob Fiorito Jr., is deployed with USS Abraham Lincoln until October. Myrna and Bob Sr. proudly cited his deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, even as they expressed their anxieties about his safety.
“Every time he goes in harm’s way, I get nervous because I remember my own experiences,” said Bob Sr., who cited the family’s history of military service, as far back as World War II. “I know he’s more capable than I was at his age and he’s got his men right behind him, but until I see him return, I’m always going to worry.”
Bob Sr. admitted that he did his best to avoid serving in a war that he didn’t agree with, but once he was there he did his best to do his duty.
“Not everybody who goes to war agrees with it,” Bob Sr. said. “You’ve got to take the politics out of it.”
Chauncey Christofferson was recognized as the oldest veteran in attendance, at 96 years old, but he arrived with his newlywed bride, Thelma, on his arm, and his memories still as sharp as ever.
“I volunteered for the Army in 1941, just before Pearl Harbor,” said Christofferson, who grew up in Marysville. “I never got to go across, though, because right after Pearl Harbor my dad died and the rest of the family thought I should take care of Mom, so I finished out the duration of my service working in the Everett shipyards.”
Christofferson still recalls the fun of starting a touring gospel-singing quartet with his fellow soldiers, as well as the miseries of standing guard duty from sundown to sunup. He emphasized that he’s never regretted his service.
Ramon and Jacqueline Ramos were both “lifers” in the service, with Jacqueline serving in the Navy from 1973-1994 and Ramon serving in the Army from 1979-2006. Jacqueline noted that two of her brothers were Marines, only one of whom survived, while Ramon pointed to two cousins of his own in the service, one of whom is still active-duty and training recruits.
“It was a challenge, especially for women in those years,” Jacqueline said of her military experience. “I hope Americans appreciate that volunteers are putting their lives on the line. Our veterans deserve to be honored and uplifted, and the Veterans Administration needs to revamp its care and compensation.”
“The unity between troops is top-notch,” Ramon said. “I hope we get a new president who supports our troops, in Iraq and elsewhere abroad.”
“Remember that a veteran, whether active duty, retired, national guard or reserve, is someone who, at one time in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their lives,” Rawe said.