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Honoring heroes

South Boston News
TAKING AIM - Veteran James McGee takes aim during the archery competition at the Cove Thursday. McGee was part of the approximately 50-strong group of American heroes out at the Cove Thursday to participate in a special event to honor the nation's military veterans brought to reality by the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation. / May 03, 2010
U.S. Marine Corps and Army veteran James McGee appreciated Thursday’s special event at the Cove, honoring American heroes in a sun-drenched, peaceful setting, highlighting the special camaraderie military veterans understand.

McGee, after participating in the archery competition, praised the work of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation that made this unique event a reality. The event had a special focus, showing appreciation for military veterans wounded in action.

“I love this event. It brings up your morale,” said McGee. “You look forward to stuff like this. All the time you’re going to doctor’s appointments. Anytime you can get out and do something like this, it’s great. I’m thankful for these people.”

McGee was a ten-year veteran of Iraq, serving seven years with the Marines and three with the Army. He was wounded in Mogadishu.

McGee and about 50 veterans – representing sacrifices for the nation’s freedom from World War II to the current conflict in Afghanistan – participated in three main outdoor sporting event, including clay skeet shooting, the archery contest, and fishing.

The first annual event, intended to honor U.S. veterans, featured fellowship, a catered meal and music.

The idea here was to create a relaxed setting for veterans to enjoy the beauty of the Cove and a serene afternoon, with some light-hearted barbs and fellowship among the veterans.

Former NASCAR Sprint Cup regular and 2002 Daytona 500 champion Burton has worked diligently to make this event a reality, and all the lengthy preparations resulted in a nearly perfect setting at the Wildlife Foundation’s Cove property.
South Boston News
Ward Burton, left, talks with Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, a public relations specialist with the U.S. Army National Guard, during a break from Burton's efforts to keep the American Heroes event running smoothly Thursday.

Burton and the Wildlife Foundation, with key sponsorship support from State Water Heaters, became involved with the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, which supports veterans and members of National Guard and reserves with combat stress and traumatic brain injuries and support for their families American veterans representing all five branches of service, from World War II to the present, were on hand. Service members who served in Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan were on hand for the event, the first of its kind in the area. There was a strong local contingent of Vietnam veterans.

Ward Burton rode on a golf cart to check on the event, noting, “I don’t think there’s anything to compete with the natural setting of the great outdoors …

“To use our foundation property and staff and all to put on an event for American heroes who’ve given so much for us, to be able to have places peaceful like this.

“We’re really thankful for all the sacrifices that the people in the past and the present have made for all of us Americans.

“It’s just a way to say, thank you,” said Burton.

State Water Heaters, which had a customer event at the Cove Friday, ITT Night Vision and Imaging and Bowtech archery combined their efforts, along with Wildlife Foundation volunteers from Utah, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

World War II veteran John Hubbard said, “It means a lot to think to do it. It’s such a wonderful thing to do. They’re making everything so wonderful for us.

“I know it’s a lot of preparation and expense as well as wanting to do it,” said Hubbard.

“It’s a wonderful day.”

Hubbard, who lives in Mechanicsville and is a member of VFW Post 9808, served as a paratrooper on D-Day, jumping into Normandy at midnight ahead of the Allied invasion on June 6, 1944. Hubbard was also involved in the Bulge at Bastogne and served with the famed 101st Airborne, the ‘Screaming Eagles.’

Veteran Allen Murray, from Midlothian, said, “It’s to help every veteran they can. I was in Vietnam, 67-68, and I’ve been knowing Ward a long time. I’m glad what he’s doing for everybody. Most of these guys here are my friends.”

Corporate representatives from State Water Heaters, who played a very important role in the event, felt right at home.

David Chisolm, brand manager for State Water Heaters, said, “We’ve been a partner with Ward Burton for quite some time now, just in different activities around the NASCAR community.

“We’ve had several of our own customer events out here at the Cove,” Chisolm said.

He pointed out that State Water Heaters has a rich history supporting national defense and the US military. The company was the nation’s top producer of bomb casings for World War I and World War II.

“We’ve been around for years and years … There’s a rich history and tradition of our company involved with the military, so it was just a great opportunity to be involved in this event, and be partners with Ward, and help show support for these guys. They’ve done a ton for our country, and it’s just a small token of our appreciation to be involved with them,” said Chisolm.

Brig. Gen. Robert L. Tucker Jr., director of interagency operations Virginia National Guard Joint Force headquarters at Ft. Pickett in Blackstone, delivered a brief address, highlighting American values and the sacrifices of the U.S. military in protecting the nation’s freedom.

The event – and the special emphasis to honor the sacrifices of our wounded warriors – is part of the continuing work of the W. Burton Wildlife foundation.

Tom Inge of WBWF said the foundation remains very project-orientated, involved with the military at Ft. Pickett with the Army Compatible Use Buffer.

The foundation is also involved with the wounded warrior project, along with environmental work in Rocky Mount, the VA Racer project.

The foundation is removing an old relic country dame, with the intention that Franklin County officials will build a light water park in its place.

Inge also said the WBWF is also involved with environmental-themed education projects, especially with young people in schools, enhancing their education and appreciation for the outdoors.

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