More than 700 community members descended upon the Frank W. Mayborn Civic and Convention Center on Tuesday to honor past, current and future members of the military at the 32nd annual Temple Chamber of Commerce Military Appreciation Luncheon.
The Chamber of Commerce presented the luncheon in conjunction with the American Legion Post No. 133 and H-E-B.
Prior to the luncheon, a number of veterans were escorted to the Mayborn center via a police procession from the William R. Courtney State Veterans Home. Chamber of Commerce President Rod Henry estimated that about 85 veterans and about 120 active duty military members were in attendance.
“The American Legion really took on the task of seeking out veterans and helping to get them here,” Henry said.
Attendees were treated to a barbecue lunch provided by H-E-B while the Belton High School Jazz Ensemble performed. The Temple High School Polyfonics performed a patriotic medley, during which each branch of the military was recognized.
After several guests were introduced, retired Lt. Gen. Paul Funk took to the podium to deliver the keynote address.
Funk commanded the American 3rd Armored Division during the First Gulf War. He recounted the events of the Battle of 73 Easting, in which U.S. forces were tasked with eliminating a contingent of the Iraqi Republican Guard.
“To defeat (your opponent) means to subdue them, get the upper hand but not destroy them. Our mission was to destroy those of the Republican Guard,” Funk said. “I can tell you that the division we fought, the Tawakalna Division, they weren’t heard from again.”
Sandstorms made it difficult to attack from the air, so U.S. troops were forced to move in on the ground. The battle occurred Feb. 26, 1991.
“We fought all night long, and they fought pretty hard. The next morning, as the fog rolled in, we kept going forward. Our soldiers were magnificent,” Funk said.
Funk questioned whether the current military could successfully perform a similar mission as he called upon the audience to support expanding the military.
“When we think back on this, the question we have to ask ourselves is, ‘Could we do this today?’ No. We don’t have the combat power in the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps to do this on the ground,” Funk said. “It’s your choice what you say to your political leaders, but I think this is very important.”
Funk concluded by addressing prejudices against women, religions and ethnicities, stating that while soldiers may be different, they each fight for the same cause.
“(After the battle) I walked into the field hospital and this great soldier got off a gurney, and he stood up and saluted me,” Funk said. “He had blood seeping out of his bandages. That soldier was an African-American, but his blood was as red as yours and mine.”
Col. Michael Adame was in attendance. He said the event was a unique opportunity to interact with current and former military members.
“To see these folks and what they’ve done is tremendous. I like to share in their stories and give them an opportunity to impart on us what they’ve learned, so I’ve always enjoyed that,” Adame said Members of Temple High School’s Junior ROTC program attended the event. Senior Faith Brearey saw the event as a learning opportunity.
“You get to see the people who have actually been in the war and fought,” Brearey said. “It’s better than reading about it in a textbook because you get to hear what they’ve experienced.”