Tonawanda News — Sitting near the Erie Canal on a summer day, a fresh-cooked meal at hand, music floating over the water, is a far cry from what they endured in wartime — and that’s exactly how Tonawanda’s Gateway Harbor Inc. intends it to be
The organization will sponsor a Servicemen and Women’s Dinner for veterans and the public from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at Gateway Harbor Park in North Tonawanda. The event is free to World War II and Korean War veterans, but all local veterans and the public are invited at a cost of $5 each.
Linda Foels, president of Gateway Harbor Inc., said she got the idea after reading about how fast the United States is losing its World War II and Korean War veterans.
“I know we have a lot of local veterans and I just wanted to honor them,” she said. “Gateway latched onto the idea and helped me and it turned out great last year.
“We got some very interesting stories. A lot of laughter, good camaraderie armong the veterans; it was just fun.”
In 2012, about 100 people were served at the event, which included about 25 World War II and Korean War veterans and took place at Niawanda Park. This year, no pre-registration is required.
“Just show up and as long as the food lasts, we’ll serve you,” Foels said.
The menu includes chef salad, ham on a hard roll, hot dogs, baked beans, pasta salad, potato salad, fruit and cupcakes, she said. The American Legion and Vietnam Veterans Chapter 77 will be cooking, and the Western New York Young Marines will be assisting with trays and serving food.
Paul Pietrowski of Vietnam Veterans Chapter 77 will be one of those on cooking duty.
“It’s not a real gourmet dinner,” he said. “We have baked beans and we have hot dogs — we were going to cook them together like we did with C-Rations back in the day, but the hot dogs went over really well last year.”
Pietrowski said that the event is a good way to honor a population that deserves it.
“The World War II veterans are in their 90s and the Korean War vets are in their 80s,” he said. “It’s a nice idea, it’s not a difficult place to get to, the guys can get there and enjoy a nice dinner and some music.”
Dennis Smilinich of the American Legion, who is also a Vietnam veteran, agreed.
“It’s a great thing to honor especially World War II veterans and Korean War veterans, but we’re going to honor everyone at this,” he said. “This is one time of year we can just do something to honor them.
“These guys, it’s well-deserved. They get to see old friends they had, they get to tell their war stories.”
The event will also feature a free performance by Mojo Hand Blue Band from 7 to 9:30 p.m., which also serves as a “Cast-off Concert” for Saturday and Sunday’s Hooked on the Tonawandas fishing tournament. Registration for the tournament will also take place at Gateway Harbor from noon to 6 p.m. Friday.
For more information on the tournament, visit www.fishgatewayharbor.net.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Servicemen and Women's Dinner • WHEN: 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday • WHERE: Gateway Harbor Park, North Tonawanda • COST: The dinner is free to World War II and Korean War veterans, $5 for others. • CONCERT: Mojo Hand Blues Band will perform at 7 p.m. in a "Cast-off Concert" for the Hooked on the Tonawandas fishing derby.