Heroes’ Dinner honors local combat veterans; Veterans Day observances today

Letters from Home’s Erinn Dearth gets friendly with Col. Ken Brown Friday evening. The group will perform at the Veterans Day event at Sportsman Lake Park today. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – On Friday evening, Cullman took time to honor its veterans, especially those who served in combat, at its annual Heroes’ Dinner at the Cullman Civic Center.

Master of Ceremonies, Col. Ken Brown explained: “The Heroes’ Dinner is an annual event; this is about the sixth year that we’ve done it. It’s sponsored by Cullman Savings Bank- Mr. John Riley and his folks down at Cullman Savings Bank. The mayor and his wife host it each year. We try to honor about 25 or 30 veterans; we changed them up each year- not all of them, but some of them. These are combat veterans who have distinguished themselves in combat, and the objective of the evening is to acquaint the civilians of the community with the military heroes that live among them.”

“We got involved in this a few years ago,” Riley told The Tribune. “You know, we’ve got the Veterans Day events every year, but we wanted to come up with a banquet to highlight a couple of local veterans and their stories, and have a banquet to honor them, and this is the banquet. It’s been a great event; (it) grows every year.”

The list of honorees included: 

  • Julian Campbell, U.S. Army and Air Force pilot in World War II, Korea and Vietnam
  • Thurman Ryan, U.S. Navy, WWII veteran of the Battle of Okinawa
  • George Mills, U.S. Army, WWII veteran of the Normandy Campaign and Battle of the Bulge, POW, Purple Heart recipient
  • Norman Hale, U.S. Army, Korean War veteran and POW
  • Ralph Bryson, U.S. Army helicopter gunship pilot, ranger, pathfinder in Vietnam
  • Dr. Tom Barnes, U.S. Army West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran airborne artillery spotter, Purple Heart recipient
  • Bill Korwatch, U.S. Marine Corps, recipient of two Purple Hearts in Vietnam
  • John Caspar, U.S. Air Force, Vietnam veteran F-105 pilot, Purple Heart recipient
  • Steve Larsen, U.S. Marine Corps, recipient of two Purple Hearts in Vietnam
  • Rick Leigeber, U.S. Army, Vietnam veteran, Purple Heart recipient
  • David Grissom, U.S. Army Ranger, recipient of a Purple Heart in Vietnam
  • Robert Stephens, U.S. Army, helicopter gunship pilot, recipient of a Purple Heart in Vietnam
  • Robert Turner, U.S. Marine Corps, recipient of two Purple Hearts in Vietnam
  • Jerry Willibey, U.S. Air Force, Vietnam veteran, former commander of Cullman’s VFW Post 2214
  • Milt Williams, U.S. Navy, Vietnam veteran aircraft carrier weapons officer
  • Ray Ainsworth, U.S. Air Force, Vietnam veteran, Tan Son Nhut Air Base medical staff
  • John Gissell, U.S. Army Special Forces, Vietnam veteran, Purple Heart recipient
  • Jim Dill, U.S. Air Force F-4 avionics specialist, Vietnam veteran
  • Joey D’Andrea, U.S. Army, recipient of two Purple Hearts in Vietnam
  • Mitchell Ward, U.S. Navy aviation ordnance specialist, Vietnam veteran
  • Will Harris, U.S. Army Special Forces, Vietnam and Special Ops veteran, Purple Heart recipient, commander of Cullman VFW Post 2214
  • Jason Harris, son of Will Harris, U.S. Army cavalry scout/sniper, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran
  • Dr. Michael Schendel, U.S. Army, Desert Storm veteran medic
  • Joe Brown, U.S. Marine Corps, Iraq War veteran
  • Brian Monk, U.S. Army, Iraq War veteran with Cullman’s 167th Infantry Co. C
  • Gregg DeBoer, U.S. Army, Kosovo 1999 and Iraq 2003 82nd Airborne engineer
  • Greg Leipert, U.S. Army, Iraq War veteran communications specialist
  • Eric Maldonado, U.S. Army Military Policeman, Iraq War veteran
  • Warren Reppond, U.S. Army, Bosnia and Iraq War veteran
  • Candace Reppond, U.S. Army intelligence specialist, Afghanistan veteran
  • Michael Elston, U.S. Army medic, veteran of five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan


Before the roll call of heroes, Riley and Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs took a moment to honor Col. Brown, presenting him a plaque for his years of service to the area’s veterans.

Brown also invited folks to attend Saturday’s Cullman County Veterans Day Celebration, saying, “We’re going to have a beautiful, sunshiny day, just like we did today; a little cool, but these folks are worth bundling up for and coming out and saying ‘thank you.’ So I hope we’ll have a big crowd out at Sportsman Lake.”

Saturday morning and afternoon – Cullman County Veterans Day Celebration at Sportsman Lake Park, sponsored by Cullman Elks Lodge 1609

Sportsman Lake Park will host its regular annual Veterans Day exhibits and events, along with some of the exhibits that would usually appear at the Cullman Regional Airport (unavailable this year due to airport construction).

Col. Brown has ordered with a smile, “The Crimson Tide has a bye this week, so no excuses!”

  • 8 a.m. – Coffee and donuts for veterans, compliments of the Cullman County Republican Women
  • 8:30 a.m. – Ride-in, with Sons of Liberty Riders
  • 8:45 a.m. – March-in, with Sons of the American Revolution and Cullman County JROTC
  • 9 a.m. – Opening ceremony, Gwen Parker, Mistress of Ceremonies
  • 9:15 a.m.- Concert with Cullman Community Band
  • 10 a.m. – USO show with Letters from Home
  • 11:30-1 p.m. – Free lunch for veterans and spouses, compliments of the Elks Lodge, featuring Vietnam era radio programming. Food vendors for civilians.
  • 1-3 p.m. – Concert with Madison Rising at the Cullman County Fairgrounds Theatre
  • All day:
    • Displays of Vietnam-era military equipment, from soldiers’ gear to a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter 
    • Displays of WWII British military equipment
    • Civil War living history camp with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and cannons
    • Gen. Bob Stewart, Vietnam veteran helicopter and NASA space shuttle pilot, will be on hand.
    • Displays of military vehicles
    • Guides will be present to help visitors locate names on the Alabama Vietnam Veterans Wall.
    • Free parking with shuttle service available


Saturday evening – Veterans’ Night at Cullman Elks Lodge 1609

Starting at 5 p.m. in the evening, the Cullman Elks Lodge, 1609 Brantley Ave. NW, Cullman, will host Veterans’ Night for veterans and spouses. 

  • Food by Augusta’s food truck
  • Cash bar
  • Music by Madison Rising, Letters from Home and Round 2
  • Open to the public

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W.C. Mann