HOUSTON - Military families were treated to a day of festivities at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on Wednesday.
Thousands of active duty service members and their families from all branches of the military not only got in for free on the rodeo's Armed Forces Appreciation Day, but also feasted on some good Texas barbecue prepared specially for them.
The Liberty Belles singing group from the United Service Organizations was on hand to entertain as the focus was to honor those present and past who have put themselves in harms way to protect the liberty of all Americans.
"Thank you for your service. Hey, we need you guys to back us up," said Ike Hargraves, 87, as he stood at the entrance of the Hideout Tent, shaking the hands of the men and women who were born decades after he served.
"When I look at them, I think about when I first joined in 1941. That was a long time ago," he said. "World War II was going on then but the world right now is not getting any better, so for what we do here, to say thank you today is just a minor thing compared to what they do for us," he said as tears welled up in his eyes.
Wednesday was all about saying thank you to every man, woman and family that makes sacrifices for the nation.
Like all rodeo committees, the Armed Forces Appreciation Committee is made up of volunteers who raise money to help pay for the food for the day.
Todd McCorquodale retired from the Navy several years ago and is in his first year on the committee. He says it's great to be able to give back.
"When you see the smiling faces on those guys, you serve them and thank them for their service," McCorquodale said. "It makes all the hard work worth it."
A special group this year and every year is made up of World War II veterans. The group is getting smaller each year. Roy Hughes is one of those who came out of the barbeque tent smiling from ear to ear and said those he met today went "over the top" showing their appreciation for him.
When asked how long he served, he was quick to say, "511 days on the front lines. Two purples hearts. I lost all my hearing. I've still got shrapnel in my lungs. It's still there. But I'm still here, too," he said.
Since 1941, the USO has been working to lift the spirits of military families and their spouses. On Wednesday, the USO brought one of its three mobile units.
"It's really special for the USO to be involved in this," said Elizabeth Vallette, the Director of the Houston USO. "We've done it for several years and it's really gratifying to see the way the troops respond to an event of this nature."
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