LORAIN — Algie Nelson’s reason for showing up at Saturday’s inaugural Lorain County Welcome Home All Veterans Reunion was simple.
“Camaraderie,” Nelson answered emphatically with a big smile.
A Marine combat infantry veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the current Afghanistan war, Nelson returned to his native Elyria after retirement as a Norfolk, Va., police officer.
He endured not only being in the thick of things in Iraq but failing health from kidney problems before receiving a new kidney in April from a younger sister.
“I’m surviving,” Nelson said as he peered at displays by veterans’ organizations set up at the Black River Landing.
These days, Nelson is happy to do what he can for fellow veterans through his involvement with AMVETS.
“I just decided to get into it,” Nelson said as he expressed growing satisfaction with the greater emphasis on help for veterans.
“Everything is building … going up … for veterans,” Nelson said.
Still proud of his days in the Marines, Nelson wore a colorful red, white and blue jacket emblazoned with the words: “And the Lord said “Let there be Marines and the gates of Hell opened.”
“Yeah, that’s an old Marine saying,” Nelson said.
Organized by Lorain natives, Vietnam War vets and veteran-activists Don Attie and Sam Felton, the daylong gathering mixed food vendors with tables manned by the Lorain County Veterans Commission, Valor Home of Lorain County, the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky and Vietnam Veterans of America.
A table manned by volunteer Kathy Jackson sold specially-printed T-shirts to commemorate the event. As she sold T-shirts to those stopping by the table, Jackson talked about how she began volunteering her time to help veterans after her husband, Vietnam Army Security Agency veteran Duane Jackson, died from complications brought on by exposure to Agent Orange.
“I thought, ‘This is something he would have liked to get involved with,’ ” Jackson said.
Among those buying shirts from Jackson was Gene O’Quinn and his wife, Pat.
An Air Force security veteran of the Vietnam War, O’Quinn is a familiar face for his service as past commander of Elyria VFW Post 1079, and his work with Honor Flight Cleveland, an organization that offers free flights to World War II veterans to and from Washington, D.C. to see the National World War II Memorial.
“We want to let veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan know that we as past vets are there for them,” O’Quinn said. “Those guys are coming back suffering with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injuries).”
“Many of them are struggling to find jobs, and there’s a lot of pressure to make ends meet,” O’Quinn said.
Veterans Affairs statistics indicate more than half of the 1.56 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have sought some degree of medical and or mental care.
The day also saw 88-year-old World War II B-17 gunner Leroy Kubuske honored for his years of service with Amherst American Legion Post 118 attending nearly 1,000 funerals of fellow veterans.
“His job during all those was to hand the American flag to widows or family members,” according to Linda Horvath, whose husband Joe — himself a Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Silver Star for service as an Army Medevac helicopter crew chief — organized the tribute to Kubuske.
Kubuske was to be surprised with a paver reading: “Dedicated to his Fallen Comrades” that is to be placed at the county’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial of Lorain County in Amherst.
Kubuske decided to dedicate his life to veterans, according to Linda Horvath, after his wife, Jean, and only daughter, Janet, were killed in a head-on traffic crash in 1988.
Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer was among those who offered brief remarks during the open hour of the veterans’ reunion.
Ritenauer said he was impressed with how quickly the event was planned, “especially with this being the first year. I told Don Attie this had a better turnout than some festivals that have been going on 10 or 15 years.”
While exact figures weren’t available because the event was free and no admission tickets were sold, Ritenauer, estimated there were 150 to 200 people at Black River Landing by 1 p.m.
The reunion ran to 7 p.m.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.