Friday afternoon at The Billy Graham Library, WWII veterans in wheelchairs sat elbow to elbow with active duty service members in boots and camouflage. And they had plenty to talk about.
They came together for the Library’s first Military Appreciation Luncheon, a free event aimed at thanking and honoring active and retired military and their families during the heart of Military Appreciation Month.
“It’s a blessing that they still remember service members,” said retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Roderick Johnson, who served in Iraq from 2004-2005.
Johnson joined 200 other current and former military members and their families at the luncheon in Charlotte, North Carolina, which featured live, patriotic music from Denver Bierman of Denver and the Mile High Orchestra.
Among the honored guests was a small number of WWII veterans, including 87-year-old Bernie Thomassen.
Thomassen joined the Navy at age 17 and served as a medic for the Marine Corps, which didn’t have its own medics at the time. More than 60 years after the war, he still has the little wooden boat given to him by a marine as a thank you for taking such good care of him.
Thomassen’s daughter, Elayn Alterman, was all smiles as she wheeled her dad into the Library.
“I thought Dad would just be blessed to come out and celebrate and also just be honored, as he should,” Alterman said.
As for Thomassen’s thoughts on the event: “I think it’s super.”
Air National Guard Lt. Col. Jeff David Perryman gave a short message during lunch.
“I think it’s cool for me, personally, because I remember going to a Billy Graham Crusade in the early 70s,” Perryman said. “He was having a Crusade there at Carter Stadium in Raleigh. I didn’t have any idea all these years later I’d be having this opportunity in this facility, which is a continuation of his ministry.”
As part of the 145th Airlift Wing, based just a few miles up the road in Charlotte, Perryman has become a regular at the Billy Graham Library’s Dairy Bar.
“I’ve been to the Library many times with other members of the Guard,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place, and it’s so close. We enjoy a quiet lunch and reflective time and get back to our duties after that.”
“I love coming here,” said Master Sgt. Tracie Rankin, who also serves with the Air National Guard in Charlotte. “I come here quite a bit.”
She appreciates the special military exhibit on display at the Library throughout the month of July, which highlights Billy Graham’s ministry to U.S. troops through the decades.
Senior Master Sgt. Chris Amburn summed it all up as he looked around the room at the many people gathered together—men and women, young and old, representing every branch of the military—all of whom came into the Library though the same glass, cross-shaped entryway.
“I think spiritual life really ties into military life,” Amburn said. “And the atmosphere here is amazing. There’s something about walking in under that cross.”
Visit The Billy Graham Library through July 31 to see the special military exhibit. Admission is free.