Different symbols of patriotism adorned all dimensions of the inside of the St. Martins Knights of Columbus Hall during Operation Bugle Boy’s annual Veterans Appreciation Night on Thursday.
Red, white and blue decor floated in the air with balloons and was splayed across tabletops, and symbols of valor and sacrifice were on display on the uniforms clothing members and veterans of the nation’s military branches present.
Patriotism was on the walls in the photographic portraits of veterans on the “Wall of Honor” lining the perimeter of the hall. Most of all, pride in service to the nation and local communities was held in the hearts of the people present, along with a will to pass that pride along to the next generation.
Thursday evening’s honorary guests highlighted the night’s emphasis on recognizing area veterans who became first responders during or after their military service:
Clifford Holt, U.S. Navy, World War II, 1945-46 in the Pacific Theater, gunner on the USS LSM-498 in the Battle of Okinawa; after the war, Holt pursued a career in law enforcement and went on to become the New Bloomfield police chief for more than two decades.
Senior Master Sgt. Ron Hoffman, U.S. Air Force, 1979-2011, with six years of active duty and 25 years in the reserves; Hoffman was hired full-time with the Cole County Emergency Medical Services in 2010.
Col. Shawn Satterfield, U.S. Army/Army National Guard, 1986-present, Special Forces, multiple deployments in the War on Terror; Satterfield is a lieutenant with the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Lance Corp. Brian Kempker, U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, 1988-91; Kempker is a sergeant with the Missouri Capitol Police, and has served with them since 1993.
Sgt. James Noah, U.S. Army Reserves, 1999-2011, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, re-enlisted this year; Noah has been a Jefferson City firefighter since 2015.
Sgt. Jason Thomas, U.S. Marines, 1995-99 and 2003-05, Operation Iraqi Freedom, recipient of the Combat Valor medal; Thomas has been a Jefferson City Police Department officer since 2006.
Sgt. John “Mango” Wheeler, Army National Guard, 1985-2016, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Black Hawk helicopter door gunner; Wheeler has served in law enforcement since 1996 and is Cole County Sheriff.
Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese of the Watertown, Massachusetts Police Department, U.S. Army veteran, served as an MP in Germany in the 1970s, including in Berlin. Pugliese was hired by the Watertown police force in 1980, and 33 years later found himself in a shootout with Boston Marathon Bombing terrorist brothers Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Corky and Donna Axelson were also present, parents of fallen U.S. Navy SEAL Matthew “Axe” Axelson. Matthew was in the same Navy SEAL training class 237 as Gov. Eric Greitens.
Greitens was one of three men honored with a Silver Star Banner — the other two were World War II veterans.
“What our veterans demonstrate through their service and their sacrifice is a tremendous commitment that comes when we make a decision that we’re going to act with courage, to serve and to support our fellow Americans,” Greitens said in his keynote speech.
“What all of us who are in this room know is that if we’re going to preserve American values, if we’re going to make sure that the next generation also honors military service, we have to make sure that we honor our veterans and that we pass these traditions down.”
Pugliese spoke before Greitens and provided details of his life before the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and his bullet-filled encounter with the Tsarnaev brothers. The manhunt for the Tsarnevs drew closer to ending after Pugliese shot the older brother Tamerlan nine times, before the younger brother Dzokhar ran over Tamerlan in a stolen SUV while attempting to drive over and kill nearby officers.
Pugliese said he didn’t know he had shot Tamerlan so many times. Despite the multiple gunshot wounds and being run over, the former boxer-turned terrorist still resisted arrest before being taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.
Pugliese credited his Army training for being able to out-maneuver the brothers during the gun battle.
He said he’s been moved by the display of appreciation for veterans he’s seen in Jefferson City; he also spoke Thursday morning at Calvary Lutheran High School, along with Donna Axelson and Don Hentges, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, president of the Jefferson City Veterans Council and quartermaster of VFW Post 1003.
“I’ll tell you, from what I’ve seen the last day and a half here, it’s an incredible organization,” he said of Operation Bugle Boy. He was impressed by the number of young people who lined the route to the hall Thursday night, waving flags in support of veterans.
Veterans Appreciation Night is free for veterans, spouses of deceased veterans and their guests. Dinner was served to the attendees by student and youth volunteers from the Jefferson City, Helias, Calvary Lutheran and Blair Oaks high schools, along with Lighthouse Preparatory Academy students, Boy Scouts and Naval Sea Cadets.
Cindy Hassler, of Jefferson City, called the event a possible welcome some veterans didn’t receive when they came home from their service. Hassler said her daughter was leading the team of student volunteers from Helias.
Operation Bugle Boy is a nonprofit that honors current soldiers, veterans and first responders, and the organization
encourages students to develop ongoing relationships with public servants in the community.
By Phillip Sitter | News Tribune