The Appalachian Fairgrounds seemed deserted Saturday afternoon, but inside the multiple buildings on site, veterans from as far back as World War II to Afghanistan and Iraq gathered.
Sam Jones, president of the Veterans Homecoming Committee, said those attending were doing whatever possible to stay out of the heat.
“We do have some air-conditioned buildings that we’re hanging out in and we’re putting fans in this building ... where the concert will be tonight,” he said.
Jones said the three-day event that started Friday, had a good turnout for Veterans Night at Johnson City’s Cardinal Park as well as the parade Saturday morning, but said the increased temperatures had been a factor in the attendance.
He said the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 979, Fountain of Life Bible Church and Rolling Thunder TN Chapter 4 were instrumental in getting this whole event started.
“This event was started two years ago by a group of Vietnam veterans that felt like it was time that we did a welcome home for the East Tennessee region,” Jones said. “This year we went from just Vietnam veterans to a veterans homecoming. We honor those that have served in any conflict from World War II to Desert Storm to Korea, Grenada, Panama, Beirut, any location that anybody has served. It didn’t have to be active combat. Everybody’s important.”
After the parade Saturday, which traveled from Freedom Hall Civic Center to the fairgrounds, Dr. Vic Young said the opening prayer, the National Anthem was sung by Julieona Soto and others including U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, and Tennessee Assistant Commissioner of Veteran Affairs Don Smith were scheduled to speak.
Musical performances scheduled for the event included McKeena Andrews and Matt Osborne, as well as The Austin Moody Band.
The event continues today starting at 9 a.m. and will conclude at 3 p.m. A worship service, with a message by the Rev. Tony Peters, will be held at 11 a.m.
“This is important because there’s a lot of healing that takes place. There’s a lot of emotional healing,” Jones said. “We just want to thank the public that came out today. The community has been very, very supportive.”