Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Story and photo: Penny Doyle/TR Staff

Mercer County Veterans Assistance Commission hosted The Annual Drivers Appreciation Dinner at the Aledo VFW on Wednesday, November 9.  Prior to the presentation of certificates and speakers, Pastor Daren Dietmeier gave grace for their meal after reciting the story of “the empty table” as follows:

You may have noticed this small table set in a place of Honor. It is set for one……This table is our way of recognizing the kindred feeling that members of our profession of arms are missing from our midst.

Commonly called POW’s or MIA’s.. We call them brothers. They are unable to be here with us and so we remember them.

This table set for one is small…It symbolized the frailty of one. Prisoner against his oppressors.

The table cloth is white...Symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.

The single rose displayed in a vase…reminds us of the families and loved ones of our comrades in arms who keep faith awaiting their return.

The red ribbon…tied so prominently on the vase is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn upon the lapel and breasts of thousands who bear witness to their unyielding determination to demand a proper accounting for our missing.

A slice of lemon…is on the bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate.

There is salt…upon the bread plate symbolic of family tears as they wait.

The glass is inverted…they cannot toast with us today.

The chair…The chair is empty…They are not here.

REMEMBER!!! All of you who served with them and called them comrades. You who depend on their might and aid, and relied upon them. Do not forsake them…Pray for them and remember them.

A touching reminder of the sacrifices made by our military and they don’t always make it home.

Veterans are honored for their service to our Country on Veteran’s Day but should be thanked whenever possible. On this night though, the ones being thanked and honored were the volunteers that assist veterans by driving them to appointments, picking up medications or other designations.  The drivers have logged many hours and miles to University of Iowa and DAV (Disabled American Veterans) facilities. The time they give is done with gratitude and respect to our veterans. 

Speaking at his first engagement as newly elected Illinois 74th District State Representative was Daniel Swanson. Being a veteran himself, he is a strong supporter of helping veterans in different aspects.  One of those is Sundance for Our Soldiers (SOS)- a non-profit organization that offers a unique innovative approach to personal growth and learning for soldiers of all ages and their families. There is NO Horseback Riding and NO Horse Experience Needed.  All activities take place 100% on the ground interacting with horses.  Each session is facilitated by a Mental Health Professional, Equine Specialist and Horse(s).  The horses in their natural environment have the innate ability to mirror what they see.  The non-verbal communication from the horses helps become a catalyst for self-discovery and personal growth. A good quote for the SOS program is "There's something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."-Winston Churchill. 

Daniel spoke of the meaning of a volunteer and the numerous definitions he has heard but focusing on one; a person who performs a service willingly and without pay. How many times in this day and age when sometimes money is scarce that you are asked for help but are just too busy. Or perhaps you would put in that effort if pay was offered. These volunteers find the time to give rides to veterans when needed. Some of the drivers being veterans themselves know the value of their services and are more than willing to help. August (Aug. E.) Kerres is a prime example. He is first to strike up a conversation which some veterans might not get enough of. They might not have family in the area to get a ride to pick up their medications or even sit and talk for a while. But Aug E. can be counted on to fulfil the purpose when he accommodates them with transportation. He is a veteran and spoke about a time that he had an operation and required a ride. The volunteer driver ended up being his broth-in-law, who didn’t know who he was picking up but he was giving his time to assist a veteran when needed.

I asked Superintendent, George Howard, if there were qualifications to be one of their drivers.  He stated that they are taken to Iowa City for a "drivers" physical. Their driving record along with their ability to drive the miles to transport the veterans is necessary. They fill out the paperwork for each transport so that their hours and mileage are logged. Aledo has nine volunteers right now and can always use more. George hopes to get the word out that assistance is available for veterans and that volunteers are greatly appreciated.

Statistics for November 1, 2015 – October 31, 2016 were: 105 trips, volunteer hours-756.5, 128 Veterans transported, and 1676 miles driven.

Breakdown for individuals at the event were of hours volunteered along with the year they began: George Carpenter-611.5 hours since 2012, Kenneth Flack-416 – 2012, Don Greer-830.25 – 2010, August Kerres – 1927 hours starting in 2002, Kevin Kilkenny – 545.5 – 2011, George Korns – 427.5 – 2014, Bruce Paul (not present) – 2020.5 – 2005, Gerald Paulsen – 2005.25 since 2005, and Kenneth Rakers – 2923.25 hours since he began in 2002.

Thank you to all the volunteers.

Volunteers Pictured L-R: Don Greer, Kenneth Flack, Daniel Swanson-State Representative, August Kerres, Kevin Kilkenny, Kenneth Rakers, George Carpenter, Gerald Paulsen, George Korns