Up & Coming Weekly

August 16, 2022

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 13 of 24

WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM AUGUST 17 - 23, 2022 UCW 13 COVER STORY "Let it be known that he who wears the military order of the Purple Heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen." With these words, George Washington created the order that established the Badge of Military Merit. Today, Ameri- cans know this prestigious honor as the Purple Heart. e Purple Heart is the oldest military award still given today. It is an honor bestowed upon brave men and women who are wounded or killed in action by an enemy of the United States, including acts of terrorism. Over 1.8 million Pur- ple Hearts have been awarded since the medal's inception under Washington in 1782. An estimated 476 Purple Heart recipients live in or around Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. On Aug. 20 they will be honored for their bravery in ser- vice at the 2022 Sandhills Purple Heart Dinner. e formal dinner will take place at the Crown Coliseum Expo Center beginning at 5 p.m. As the only one of its kind in Cumberland County, the Sandhills Purple Heart Dinner is meant to publicly honor the sacrifice of Purple Heart recipients and their families. Also honored will be Gold Star Mothers, mothers whose active- duty children have been killed in action, as well as families of service members who've been killed in combat. Considering the large military population in Cumberland County, the dinner honors nearly 90 Purple Heart recipients at the event annually. Fort Bragg has the unique distinction of being not only the largest military base in the United States but in the world. Home to over 50,000 active-duty troops, Fort Bragg, established as Camp Bragg in 1918, is a city with a rich history and even more heart. Perhaps more impressive than Fort Bragg's remarkable size and formidable military presence is its large veteran population. While nationwide, veterans represent a little over 7% of the population, around 17% of adults in the Fayetteville area have a military background. Up & Coming Weekly spoke with Andrea Tebbe and Chris Pearce, chairperson, and vice-chair of the Sandhills Purple Heart Dinner. Tebbe is a veteran, and a military spouse. She and Pearce, whose husband is a two-time Purple Heart recip- ient, both feel their involvement with the event is an opportunity to give back to a community that is often underserved. "My father and father-in-law are Purple Heart recipients," Tebbe shared. "I became involved so I could honor those before me; men and women who are true heroes in every sense of the word." Pearce sees the dinner as an opportunity to educate civilians about the Purple Heart and what a prestigious honor it is. After canceling the dinner in 2020, and a small turnout due to COVID precautions last year, Tebbe hopes this year's event will be "bigger and better" than ever. "Interest varies a little from year to year, but the pandemic hurt our momentum. I've seen a slight decrease, but I'm hoping attendance picks back up," she said. e dinner is open to all Purple Heart recipi- ents and their families and civilians who wish to come and pay their respect to the brave men and women the event will honor. Pearce and Tebbe see the inclusion of civilians as an impor- tant component of the dinner as so many older veterans, those who served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, are dying. Stories of their brave service to their country could be lost with their passing. "It's an important event to be a part of," Tebbe expressed. "We're losing so many of our veterans every day, especially Vietnam vets. For many, this is the first welcome home that they've had. So many of our Vietnam vets were not honored when they returned, and this is our way of saying thank you to them for their sacrifice and their service. People should come and engage with this community." Pearce shared an equal sentiment: "I think this is an important event so people can recognize our veterans and their work. ey so often don't get the recognition they deserve." With that in mind, the Sandhills Purple Heart Dinner is designed so its honorees are kept firmly in place as the center of attention during the three-hour event. During the ceremony, there will be no guest speakers to ensure every mo- ment is filled with those present, those remem- bered and those forgotten. Local high school JROTC will hold their sabers aloft as Purple Heart recipients pass through during an honor walk. e Missing Man table, a symbolic gesture of remembrance those affiliated with the military know all too well, will also be present to pay silent tribute to the unknown fate of those missing in action. ough it is a solemn event, it's also a time of celebration. Each Purple Heart recipient and Gold Star Mother will receive a surprise gift as a token of appreciation to be presented by Fran- cis Figueroa, Department Commander of the Military Order of Purple Heart and fellow Purple Heart recipient. Also, the Cross Creek Chords- men, a local acapella group, will be in attendance to lead the crowd in boisterous military songs. During the dinner, Purple Heart recipients will be seated with civilians. Hence, they have an op- portunity to share their stories with a new audi- ence — a practice Tebbe would like to see more. "I think anytime you're in contact with a veteran, there should be a thank you," she said candidly. "I think people need to recognize and be grateful for all that veterans have done." Tebbe would also like to see that gratitude paired with action, particularly concerning vol- unteering for events like this. e planning for an event of this size and visibility takes place over the course of months, beginning in January for the August dinner. "We're always looking for more people to vol- unteer," she said. "We could use help with plan- ning and definitely on the day of. For me, it's my way of giving back and saying thank you." All Purple Heart recipients and Gold Star Mothers are entitled to a complimentary ticket for themselves and one guest. Additionally, the organization will give one ticket to a guest repre- senting an individual killed in action. Tickets for all other attendees are $25 a person. e Crown Coliseum Expo Center is located at 1960 Coliseum Drive in Fayetteville. For tickets, information or to volunteer visit https://www.sandhillsphdinner.com/ or reach out to Andrea Tebbe at 910-286-6068. Annual Sandhills Purple Heart Dinner honors local heroes, recognizes families by ASHLEY SHIRLEY ASHLEY SHIRLEY, Staff Writer. COMMENTS? editor@upandcom- ingweekly.com. 910-484-6200. Sidney Neely took part in a previous Purple Heart Dinner and is scheduled to attend this year's event. Neely received a Purple Heart during his service in Vietnam. (Photo courtesy Kellie Marie Photography)

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