Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rolling Thunder thanks homeless vets

Rolling Thunder thanks homeless vets

The local Rolling Thunder Chapter celebrated the holidays Saturday by showing appreciation for veterans who are homeless or living in group homes.

The group, which focuses on raising awareness about those listed as prisoners of war or missing in action, began conducting a holiday meal nine years ago because "so many of them are forgotten," said Melody Smallridge.

"It's rewarding," she added.

About one third -or 154,000 -homeless in the nation have served in the armed forces, according to estimates by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Robert Clifford Carte, 51, would be on the street if it weren't for a local group home, he said.

Carte was one of more than 100 area veterans served at Saturday's dinner. Although Carte technically served in the Air Force during peace time after the Vietnam War, he had problems assimilating back into society upon his return.

"I went to Marshall University for two years. I just couldn't function in there, and I dropped out," he said.

The Charleston, W.Va., native has spent the past 16 years living in a group home.

"It's a better quality of life. I'd be homeless if it weren't for that. I don't know how everybody is making it," he said, adding he is disabled in addition to being diagnosed as schizophrenic.

He was appreciative of the dinner Saturday, a break from the normal routine and the hard work he knows Rolling Thunder put into it.

"When we have something like this, it's really exciting. The food's good," Carte said with a smile.

George Swango, who served in World War II, was a POW for 32 months during Korea and served two stints in Vietnam, was on hand to give grace before the meal. Being with those who "knew God" reassuring him during his time as a POW is what Swango credits with getting him through it all.

At 80 years old, Swango dedicates himself to showing appreciation to his fellow veterans and helping Rolling Thunder's mission.

"(This dinner) is to show our appreciation to our veterans for their service ... They deserve the appreciation and respect just as much as I do or any other veteran who has been able to cope with the situation we've been faced with," Swango said, adding many homeless veterans fought in Vietnam. "It gives me much pleasure to go around and shake their hands and tell them I love them."

Swango, of Beaver, also was appreciative of the students from Eastern High School who helped Rolling Thunder. The school raffled throw blankets of the different branches of service to raise money for the dinner and also brought items to fill gift bags to send home with the veterans.

"I think it would be great if the youth could help cook and serve (the dinner)," said Eastern senior Katelynn Williams. "We're here today because of them. We have what we have because of them ... and I think they need to be appreciated and honored."

(Ison can be reached at 772-9367 or via e-mail at

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