By Daniel Meyer
Observed annually on Nov. 11, Veterans Day is the single day of remembrance that recognizes the signing of the armistice, which ended World War I. Military veterans are honored and publicly thanked for their service to their country on Veterans Day in a wide variety of ways, including parades, church services and other community-wide recognition ceremonies.
Though World War I ended in 1918, Congress officially recognized the end of the battle in 1926 by declaring that the anniversary of the armistice should be commemorated with prayer and thanksgiving. Nov. 11 was approved as a legal holiday in 1938 and was originally known as Armistice Day to honor all World War I veterans. Following the mobilization of service members to fight in World War II, it was decided in 1954 to officially change the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.
In addition to local VFW posts and American Legion halls recognizing our veterans next week, a local non-for-profit organization that assists veterans from across Western New York is planning a special tribute next weekend.
Focusing their mission of improving the lives of those who proudly served their nation, WNY Heroes is making a difference in the lives of local military veterans, including service members from throughout Cattaraugus County. The organization’s dedicated volunteers will host the sixth annual Red, White & Blue Gala on Friday, Nov. 13 at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens in Depew. The annual fundraiser recognizes veterans who have served and the families of those left behind.
Founded in 2007, WNY Heroes provides veterans and the widows and children of deceased veterans with access to everyday essential living needs, financial assistance and other resources to help support them and maintain their dignity. The organization is overseen by an advisory board that includes business leaders, community stakeholders and representatives of various philanthropic and civic foundations.
Excitement is building for next week’s recognition dinner, which will run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. inside the grand ballroom of Salvatore’s. This year’s event will include a presentation by SSG Timothy Payne, a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who now works as a motivational speaker and is the author of the book “The Squad Leaders Bargain.”
“This is our one major fundraiser where we recognize those who served and the families left behind because of service of their loved one,” said Chris Kreiger, president and chief executive officer of WNY Heroes. “Our office is able to assist our families in need in a variety of different ways, including helping them stay in their current homes, keep their utilities turned on and make sure there is enough food on their tables. If a veteran is homeless, we make arrangements to find them housing to get them off the street.”
With next week’s annual focus on military veterans taking place across the nation, Kreiger and his volunteers remain focused on doing what they can to assist those in need.
“Veterans should not be returning home and end up becoming homeless or jobless,” said Kreiger, a U.S. Army veteran who served overseas. “Veterans should be given first choice for job hiring, something I know our community is working on to make that happen. It is very hard for veterans to ask for help. Our military teaches you that asking for help and not doing it alone makes you weak, therefore they do not ask and often times end up in positions that leave them in a really tough spot.”
Kreiger encourages veterans and others to consider attending next weekend’s Red, White & Blue Gala or to make a general donation to WNY Heroes.
“Holding this fundraiser every year allows us to help veterans sustain their dignity once we get them to see that asking for help makes you stronger, not weaker. We have gained much support in our community, not only for what we do, but because it was my promise to our donors that all funds raised will remain local. What we do stays right here in Western New York. With the support of the community through future donations we will continue to grow and expand our current programs in an effort to help the proud men and women who served our country and preserve our wonderful way of life. Any concern for our veterans and displaying kindness toward them mean the world to us.”
For more information about WNY Heroes, including how to purchase tickets to the 2015 Red, White & Blue Gala, visit www.wnyheroes.org or call (716) 630-5020.