ARARAT — On March 25, 1969, Grady Dollyhigh was among 28 Surry County men drafted into the U.S. Army.
“I can remember it just like it was yesterday,” he said. “I got a letter from Uncle Sam that said ‘greetings.’ I knew what it meant when I saw it.”
Dollyhigh shared his story over dinner served by the Eldora Ruritan Club in appreciation of local veterans last week, recalling the names of 14 of those men with whom he was called for duty.
“I’ve still got that letter somewhere,” he said.
A native of the White Plains community, Dollyhigh was sent to Korea.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” he said. “They didn’t have any jungles, and they weren’t shooting at you as bad.”
The mistreatment of veterans, and Vietnam vets in particular, was a topic mentioned by many who spoke at the third-annual event.
“We don’t get a lot of recognition,” said Tom Pendergraft, an Army veteran who served 24 years.
The annual recognition dinner held by the Eldora Ruritan Club aims to help correct that injustice.
“The veterans dinner is our second-largest event of the year,” Ron Snow, club member, said to the group of about 107 veterans and their spouses.
“We’ve about reached our limit,” said organizer and club president Mickey Venable, who hopes to expand the number served in the future.
He said the Ararat Volunteer Fire Department has offered their facility for that purpose.
Venable spent the early portion of the evening delivering meals to four veterans who couldn’t make it out that night.
“They’ve been cooking all afternoon,” he said of his fellow club members. “Everyone is so appreciative. It makes me glad to be a part of them.”
Members of the Surry Central High School Junior ROTC presented the colors, and, in addition to a meal consisting of baked ham, green beans, potatoes and slaw, live music was provided by Billy C. and Frankie Smith and band.
“Certainly we are appreciative of what they’re doing,” Robert Holder, an Army veteran and one of the featured speakers of the evening, said of the club.
Holder served in the Army in the early 1950s.
“The honor and recognition our vets get today was not so many years ago,” Holder said. “I had Vietnam vets tell me when they came back they were cursed and spat upon. That’s really unforgivable.”
Holder said the treatment of soldiers returning from Korea was not as harsh.
“We were just more or less ignored. That is still true today.”
Holder shared a recent experience with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which not only denied his request for benefits but mistakenly sent him the application materials belonging to another veteran.
“The thing that upset me about that was the incompetence of the V.A.,” he said. “Many veterans are not receiving proper care today.”
Near the end of his remarks Holder noted, “Freedom is not free. It’s bought with a price. That price is bloodshed.”
He mentioned the various war memorials in the county bearing the names of 196 men from Surry County who have been killed in action in the past 100 years.
“They gave their lives,” Holder said. “Let us here highly resolve that (those) honored dead have not died in vain.”
Pendergraft also addressed the group, recalling his life before the Army.
“I was a young kid with no direction,” he said. “The military saved my life.”
The Dobson resident, who “jumped out of airplanes,” while in the service and met his wife as a hang gliding instructor afteward, spoke of how the percentage of men who will serve is much smaller than in the past.
“Every young man needs to physically witness what you have,” he said, sharing his doubt that a military draft will be utilized in the future.
“We will not see that again in our lifetime,” he said.
Pendergraft served three tours in Vietnam, “on the front lines,” he said.
“You come home and you’re hated,” he continued, noting, “I love America.”
Continuing with his remarks, the veteran spoke frankly to the group about his experience returning stateside to an unappreciative public.
“You can imagine how it felt,” he said. “It’s been hard to release that.”
Pete Carroll, a 100-year-old World War II veteran who served under General George S. Patton, attended the event for the third year in a row.
“I’ve been through a lot,” he said of his military experience. “What got me the most was seeing the concentration camp.”
His best friend, Carol Edwards, who accompanied Carroll to the dinner, said she’s been helping the veteran compile photo books from his time in the service.
“I’ve learned more history from him than anybody I’ve ever met, or from school,” she said.
Before the evening concluded with a few more songs from the house band and recitation of the pledge of allegiance, Carroll delighted the group with a few words of wisdom.
“There’s a secret to living long,” he said. “That’s to be born a long time ago.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.