Elks Lodges provide barbecue to veterans on Independence Day
by Mark Ledbetter
Elks Lodges from Pell City, Cahaba Valley and Roebuck came together Thursday to honor veterans residing at the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City as part of their July 4th celebration.

Named after one of the most decorated men in the U.S. Army in modern times, the facility is home to 151 veterans, seven of which are female. The home is averaging six to eight new residents each week, Activities Director Kristin Copeland said.

The ribbon cutting dedicating the facility took place November 2012 and one of the first residents to move into the facility the first week of December was Sylacauga native Rex Stewart. Stewart served on the U.S.S. Merrimack, a tanker that at the time of Stewart’s service fueled aircraft carriers and landing ships. Stewart is a “5 Star” recipient, having participated in five major campaigns, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Stewart’s daughter, Rexan Cain, was on hand for the celebration. She said she thought the facilities were wonderful and that her father loved living there.

Also living there is Rufus Pinkerton, who after 42 years of service retired as a commander in the U.S. Navy, commanding the battleship the USS “Big Mo” Missouri.

Pinkerton, originally from Evergreen, signed up at age 16 in Brewton, was sent to Pensacola. He said before he realized it, he was in Tokyo and then Russia.

“I joined for the money,” Pinkerton said. “On a farm, $16 per month was a lot of money.”

Under his command, “Big Mo” served the Third Fleet under command of Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. and supported several campaigns, including Okinawa. It was upon the Missouri that the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed Sept. 2, 1945.

Pinkerton said he has four sons, all of which also served in the Navy, and a daughter who married a Marine.

Serving four years in the Navy, Fannie Scott is one of the females residing in the veterans home. The Priceville native said she joined the Navy because she wanted to be like her four brothers who also joined the Navy. Scott said she was stationed at the naval air reserve in Hutchinson, Kan.

Scott said she enjoys living at the facility and especially enjoyed all the activities planned for residents.

John Caldwell lives at the state veterans’ home and said he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. as a parachute rigger. Caldwell said that while he didn’t see action during the war, he agreed his role as a chute rigger provided a vital service to men who made the jumps.

“I had to check the chutes for holes and the rigging for rusty parts,” Caldwell said. “They would not have appreciated it if I hadn’t.”

Ralph Parker served in World War II in the Navy. He served on transports taking soldiers to the beaches on D-Day. Sons Roger, of Troy, and Darrell of Pell City, were on hand to visit their father. Their father was living in Troy with Roger, but agreed to move to the veterans home since Darrell would be living close. Parker moved in Dec. 21. Parker was also a member of the Navy and shuttled soldiers during the Normandy invasion.

Both sons said they were grateful for such nice facilities and providing their father with the care they could not give him.

Pell City Lodge President Suzanne Shirley said they received a grant from the Elks National Foundation and, with the help of other lodges, were able to provide for the meal. Volunteers from the lodges served the veterans as they passed through the serving line, or volunteers prepared plates to take to veterans who were unable to serve themselves.

Cook Chairman and Pell City member Steve Lynch said five Elks members began cooking 350 pounds of Boston butts about midnight Tuesday. After they were smoked, they pulled the meat and added potato salad, slaw and baked beans to the menu. Scott said the veterans home provided beverages and Copeland said Publix provided the dessert.

“Publix is good about helping,” Lynch said.

Shirley said they prepared to serve 500, which included the veterans, their families and staff members. She said it is the Elks policy to honor the veterans for their contributions to preserve the nation’s freedoms.

District representative Roy Adams said, “As long as there is one veteran living, he or she will never be forgotten. Every day is veterans’ day.”

Cahaba Valley Lodge trustee John Gaydon said, “Without our veterans, we wouldn’t have the freedom, liberty and everything we have today, we owe to the veterans.”

Teresa Carden, admissions director for Lakeside Hospice, sang patriotic music while the veterans were served their meal.

Copeland said she was thankful for the Elks’ expression of care and concern and added that the veterans have been very excited about the event.

Contact Mark Ledbetter at mledbetter@dailyhome.com

© 2013