For the ninth year in a row, area veterans, their family and friends were recognized for service to their country over the Veterans’ Day weekend.
Saturday at the Riverbank Community Center, members of Royal Neighbors of America, chapter 9890 of Riverbank, their families, friends and other volunteers hosted a large group of former service men and women for lunch. The buffet style meal included tri tip, chicken, rice, broccoli salad, fruit salad, pasta salad, a green salad and dessert.
Event organizer Diane Talbert and other Royal Neighbors members work all year long fundraising for the Veterans’ Luncheon, which is very close to Talbert’s heart. She lost two brothers in the Vietnam War. The Royal Neighbors host a tea party in the spring, hold garage sales, attend bazaars, and put on a spaghetti dinner as fundraisers.
“That (losing her brothers) made me want to start the lunch up again,” stated Talbert. “So we started in 2007, it was my way for us to give back. It was twofold for me, giving back and giving our city better press than what we were getting at the time and I think it worked very well.”
This year, RNA dedicated their tribute to Anthony Mello, a Marine who received a Purple Heart; Bud Turpin, another Marine; and Spike Machado, who served in the Navy on the carrier the USS Enterprise, who are now missing from the roster. The list of veterans honored included over 120 names.
Opening ceremonies included a presentation by a Color Guard made up of students from the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps from Riverbank High School. Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem was sung by Phenix Lew, a 12-year-old student who wore her great grandfather’s Purple Heart Medal. An opening prayer and blessing of the food was offered by Navy veteran Richard Boos.
A Riverbank resident, Boos was aboard an aircraft carrier out of Long Beach from September 1963 to September 1967. He was deployed to Vietnam three times during his service.
“I was aviation ordnance which you can’t use when you get out because they don’t load bombs and rockets on passenger planes,” said Boos. “I have attended this event every year. It is very nice that they put this on for the vets.”
“Each year it gets better and it is a very nice organization that puts it on and they do a great job,” added Julie Boos. “The meal was good and so is the band.”
New this year to the event was live music by Fred Stepp and the Jammers, which was suitable since three members of the band are veterans themselves including Stepp, Dee Shaffer and Sam Eldridge.
Army veteran Joe Centeno, who served from 1968 to 1969, went overseas to Vietnam as an infantry scout for the first infantry division. He is a Turlock resident and has been attending the luncheon in Riverbank for the past three years.
“It is great,” said Centeno. “They do a fantastic job setting up and everything.”
Riverbank High School seniors Emily and Claire Helm volunteered for the first time and they experienced all the hard work that is put into the event. They shared that they were very glad they volunteered and would like to volunteer again next year.
“We got the kids involved this year,” expressed Talbert. “I like to get the kids involved because I like for them to see what it means to be a patriot. That is a big thing for me. I think a lot of that has been missing these days so I like to get them involved.”
Talbert offered thanks to all the volunteers and supporters, both individuals and businesses, and said they work in cooperation with O’Brien’s Market to cater the luncheon.
“O’Brien’s does a really good job for us and they give us a good price,” Talbert said. “We have a quality meal, which is important. It went really well.”
News Reporter Virginia Still and Correspondent Ric McGinnis both contributed to this article.