The Walker County Fairgrounds was packed Thursday evening for the sixth annual Huntsville and Walker County Wounded Warrior Banquet, as more than 1,100 people came out to support the men and women who serve in the military.
Veterans who were wounded in combat and mothers whose sons and daughters were killed in action all were honored during the sold-out event with loud applause from the large crowd.
“This is the third year I’ve come and it has been a sellout every year,” said Linda Tisdale, whose son served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was nearing retirement before he was killed. “Being part of a military family it is really heartwarming to see so many come out, particularly to help out the ones who are injured after being in a war-torn area.”
The respect and appreciation that was shown by the crowd toward the men and women who have served, and are serving in the military, helped Tisdale get through an emotional night.
“I grew up in the Vietnam era and a lot of the people I went to high school with didn’t come back and the ones who did, I know how they were treated,” Tisdale said. “This is so turned around from how it was back then. To see all these people come out to try and help these folks in any way they can, it’s really a good feeling.”
The number of people in attendance surprised the Wounded Warriors.
“It was a pretty good event,” said Monte Bernardo, who was severely injured in Afghanistan after stepping on an IED. “There was a lot more people than I expected.”
Seeing nearly 1,200 people give the injured veterans a standing ovation was a sight to behold, according to Bernardo.
“It feels really great,” he said. “I grew up in the San Francisco area and soldiers were kind of frowned upon there. So, growing up and seeing all that and then joining the Army and coming down here and seeing how people treat us, it kind of makes it worth it all. People actually do care, which I didn’t expect. When I first blew up, I came out and thought ‘Here we go, blown up and forgotten.’ And it’s not like that.”
Besides honoring the injured veterans and their families, the event raised funds for the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio, a place that provides coordinated services to patients, next-of-kin and extended family members of veterans.
Judith Markelz, the director of the Warrior and Family Support Center, was able to attend the banquet in Huntsville for the first time and was astonished by the generosity of the people of Walker County.
“This is amazing,” Markelz said. “I mean it is absolutely amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this. What a town this is.”
The people of Huntsville and Walker County have been making an impact on Markelz’s life for the past six years, but actually seeing it with her own eyes was something she’ll never forget.
“This allows me to stop worrying,” she said. “I will sleep better now. All of the Wounded Warriors who were here tonight came up to me and said, ‘They have not forgotten us’, and places like this will never forget them (veterans).”