ASHLAND — Hundreds of the 3,076 veterans living in Ashland County woke up early Saturday.
Their mission: to enjoy a complimentary breakfast offered through Ashland Mayor Matt Miller’s fifth-annual Veterans Day Breakfast.
It’s hard to avoid it. The eggs, the pancakes and sausage gravy and biscuits; the pin depicting the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima; the 17 U.S. flags enveloping the room; the camaraderie; the smiles; the “thank yous.”
“God bless each and every one of you,” Miller said. “Have a wonderful day.”
The breakfast kicked off a bevy of activities around Ashland County for Veterans Day.
Later in the morning, military vets gathered at the American Legion Post 88 along Claremont Avenue for a program honoring those who serve. The auxiliary served lunch afterward.
Then veterans and their significant others headed over to the Ashland Theater to watch “The Great Escape” on the big screen. The tickets, and the fare, were free.
Michael Crain, 71, was one of the several military veterans present. He sat stoic at one of the 24 roundtables wearing a red U.S. Marine Corps hat. He nursed a styrofoam cup of ice water when a reporter approached him.
Crain grew up in Ashland before bootcamp and cryptologic training sent him to Florida, North Carolina, Japan and ultimately Fort Meade working for the National Security Agency. He retired from a role with the NSA in 1995 and began working for the U.S. Postal Service.
“I loved it there. We thought we’d retire and stay there,” he said.
Family ultimately drew him back to his hometown in the mid-2000s. It would have been sooner, he said. But, at the time, USPS operated under a hiring freeze, making transfers difficult and rare.
“But then Wooster had an opening and I said ‘yes. Yes, yes, yes,’” Crain said.
They moved to Ashland and he retired fully at 62 in 2014. It’s Ashland — home — where he finds community and camaraderie now.
Much like Al Zimmerman.
“This is wonderful,” said Zimmerman, an Army veteran who enlisted in 1970.
Zimmerman and his wife, Karon, live in Perrysville now, but he grew up in the Chicago area.
“Other places I’ve lived don’t focus as much on honoring veterans. It’s great to be here.”
Zimmerman said he served from 1970-1975. For 18 months in the early 1970s, the U.S. government stationed him in Thailand. That’s where he and his comrades participated in a covert operation that involved broadcasting “Democratic propaganda” to Cambodians.
“It was like a soap box drama series,” he said, chuckling.
He also served in Okinawa, Japan for a time before ending his time in the military at Fort Bliss, Texas. When he got out, he became an electrical engineer — a career the 71 year-old still practices.
It’s stories like Crain’s and Zimmerman’s that Madison Miller, Miss Ohio 2023, said she likes to share. Her nonprofit, The Veteran Narrative, supports servicemen and women by sharing their stories and fostering connections with younger generations.
The interviews from The Veteran Narrative ultimately end up with the Library of Congress.
“I got my appreciation for veterans at a young age, when my grandfather would tell me stories,” she said, addressing the Crains and Zimmermans in the room. After addressing the room, she helped dish food for the guests.
Members of Ashland City Council, city staff and other county workers also volunteered Saturday morning during the breakfast event.
State Rep. Melanie Miller and her husband, the mayor, greeted each and every guest as they entered the Fraternal Order of Eagles club.
She spoke to a reporter moments after handing out the last of hundreds of pins available to the honored guests, who were all now seated eating and chatting.
Patriotic music played over speakers.
“It really is an honor, to be able to do this for our veterans,” she said.
The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.