CALCUTTA -On a steamy hot summer day, the shade of the Veterans Administration clinic breezeway at Calcutta Square was a good place to be, especially when there was plenty of good food, music, and conversation for military veterans and their families.
Friday was the annual veterans appreciation picnic. Each year area volunteers secure donations for the annual picnic, so area veterans can enjoy time with their families and new and old friends at no charge. More importantly, they spent time getting reacquainted and talking about their experiences serving in the various branches of the U.S. military.
"We just want the veterans to know that this is their day," said Ruth Sullivan, one of the event organizers.
Wayne Dillon, Sr., (left) of Rogers, Ron Wine of Huron, Ohio and Harold Watson of San Jose, Calif., talked with Columbiana County Commissioner John Payne during the veterans appreciation picnic Friday in front of the Veterans Administration Clinic in Calcutta Square. (Photo by Nancy Tullis)
Although the area in front of the Veterans Administration Clinic is an ideal location for the gathering, organizers said the VA does not sponsor the event.
This year, the volunteers chose to give special recognition to the members of the Tri-State Burial Group, veterans who volunteer their time and own resources to provide military honors at veterans' funerals.
Volunteers played music ranging from current country hits back to the music of WWII, including a recording of a USO show featuring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. At the urging of many people on hand Friday, John Henry Martin of Wellsville sang "God Bless America."
Burial group honored at picnic
By NANCY TULLIS
CALCUTTA - A group of local veterans of the U.S. military that spends a good deal of time making sure veterans receive proper military honors before burial were honored during the annual veterans appreciation picnic Friday at Calcutta Square.
Retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief Steve Quinn of East Liverpool, a veteran of Iraq, is commander of the Tri-State Burial Group. He accepted a recognition plaque from organizers of the picnic, all volunteers who, like the members of the Tri-State Burial Group, spend their own time and resources to honor their own.
Tri-State Burial Group is a group of veterans who provide military honors - folding the U.S. flag, firing the seven-man, three-volley 21-gun rifle salute, playing Taps - at the conclusion of a veteran's funeral, or during a graveside service before burial.
"We also have support from the West Virginia National Guard," Quinn said. "They usually send someone out to help in folding the flag."
Part of the military honors is a precise folding of the U.S. flag draped over the coffin, and presentation of the flag to family members.
"We do whatever the family wants," Quinn said.
Members are veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan, Quinn said. Presently, most are Vietnam-era veterans, he noted.
"We serve families in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania," he said. "That's why we're called the Tri-State Burial Group."
Quinn said the group generally is called upon to provide military honors at two or three funerals each week.
One of the members of the Tri-State Burial Group is Carl Smith of Wellsville, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II.
He said the group performs the military honors outdoors in all kinds of weather, including the dead of winter. Three years ago, he participated in the graveside services for his own son, Danny Smith, a Vietnam veteran.
At 80, Quinn said he has participated for 10 years and will continue to do so. Why?
"I take care of my veterans," he said simply, "all my brothers."
Veterans Frank Delia, Tony Biastro and Don Davis, have volunteered at the annual veterans appreciation picnic for several years, providing popcorn and serving it up for veterans in attendance. The three men met after the Vietnam war when they all worked at Packard Electric in Trumbull County.
Biastro said he served in the Army's 25th Infantry 1967-69. He did one tour of Vietnam, and was wounded three times. The third time, he was finally sent home.
He said despite his injuries, he still considered himself to be a young man and so when he returned from Vietnam, he thought taking the Packard Electric job was the right thing to do. After a few years, the Veterans Administration advised he could retire on his veterans pension and Social Security.
Now he regularly comes to the local VA clinic, and says the doctors and nurses there take very good care of him.
Wayne Dillon Sr. of Rogers said he enjoyed the picnic and talking to other veterans. "You won't believe how old I am ," he said, seemingly somewhat amazed. "I'm going to be 80!"
Dillon has lived in Rogers for some 50 years, but grew up in the Klondike area of East Liverpool's East End neighborhood. At 15, he started boxing - a 115-pound lightweight - and so the sport defined his life.
His idol was boxing great Jack Dempsey, and so when he joined the military during World War II, he chose the U.S. Coast Guard. As a Coast Guard seaman, he first worked the city piers in New York City, and spent some time there boxing Golden Gloves.
Dillon said he was then was assigned to a ship that served as a destroyer escort, which took him to the Pacific. He had a chance to box again during a stop in Tahiti.
He served in the Coast Guard from 1942-45. Later he took his children on the train to New York City several times when his idol Dempsey - who served as a Coast Guard lieutenant commander - owned a restaurant there. He finally got to meet Dempsey and got a photo with him.
To this day, Dillon still has a passion for boxing, and follows the sport. Now added to his collection of boxing photos are those of Youngstowners Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini and Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik.
Of the picnic, Dillon said he had a good time. "It's just fine," he said.
Delia said he served in the Army 1967-69, mostly in Germany. Now he is waiting to see what his son, Army Second Lieutenant Brian Delia, is going to do. He said his son recently graduate from Army Officer Candidate School, and currently is a member of the Army Reserve.
Although his son has Reserve status as of now, he is contemplating a full-time military career.
Delia said he likes helping with the picnic because it is a way to honor veterans for their service, and for veterans to spend time with their brothers in arms.
"It's pretty neat," he said. "They served, they came home, and sometimes they're forgotten. This is a time to say thanks, and for them it's a day to just come out here and talk, and get together with other veterans."
Delia said the military is a good place to "grow up," and so he wishes the United States still used a military draft. "It's all about responsibility and respect," he said.
Harold Watson is a disabled veteran of Vietnam. He is originally from East Liverpool, and now lives in San Jose, Calif. He was back in town for the weekend for his high school class reunion.
"I grew up in the West End," he said. "It was special then, a real neighborhood. Everyone took care of one another and shared everything. It was just one big family."