The Gila County Republican Party hosted a Veterans Appreciation Dinner for Payson area veterans Saturday, Nov. 13 and raised $1,000 in funds for veteran organizations. More than 150 veterans, spouses, and others attended the event. The Oxbow Saloon on Main Street offered its facility for the dinner.
The dinner event included a special ceremony honoring the last combat deaths in Afghanistan from the Aug. 26 bombing at the Kabul Airport that killed 13 service members — 11 Marines, including two female members, were killed in the bombing, along with an Army Ranger and a member of the U.S. Navy.
The ceremony included 13 empty chairs on the stage with photographs of the lost members, their names, a small American flag and lit luminaries. A U.S. Marine Honor Guard member read the individual names and another Marine rang a bell in remembrance.
Arizona Rep. Walt Blackman, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, delivered a speech about the importance of the U.S. Constitution that military members swore to support and defend and cited that commitment does not expire when the service member leaves the military. Payson Town Mayor Tom Morrissey, a veteran of the U.S. Army, also spoke.
Gila County Republican Committee Chairman Gary Morris, a Vietnam era veteran, commented, “The major debacle and malfeasance that occurred during the Afghanistan withdrawal dishonored all service men and women and veterans. The loss of 13 members added to the hurt. Phone calls to veteran mental health hotlines across the country began to spike up.”
Republican Party organizations across the country have a long history of strongly supporting the military and veterans. “The Gila County Republican Party wanted to ‘walk the talk’ and honor veterans and show them that the Payson area communities care about our veterans,” said Morris.