Local military members and their families had their Christmas come early at Amesbury’s Holy Family Parish Hall last night while attending the 12th Annual Support the Troops Christmas Dinner and Reception.
“It’s always a pleasure to be here at this event,” said Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer III, a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, who attended his first dinner 10 years ago. “Speaking as a mayor and a military person, this is an event where my two lives come together. So I always look forward to putting on the uniform and joining you.”
With only two weeks left in his term, Kezer shared a quick joke with those attending.
“I look forward to coming back next year as Citizen Kezer,” he said.
Organized by VFW Post 2016, the dinner is held each year in honor of all active duty, reserve or recently discharged military and their families and began as the brainchild of then post Commander John Carter during the Christmas directly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Carter remembered a time during his military career when he was home for Christmas, as was his best friend, yet they never realized it.
“A lot of the kids from high school, they might be home, they might be stationed in Korea, they might be stationed in Iraq or all over the world, but they were all home for Christmas,” said Vietnam Marine Corps veteran and Post 2016 Quartermaster Ski Iworsky. “And this would give them the opportunity to get together and just see what’s going on with each other’s lives.”
Roughly a half dozen people were on hand in that first year, but over the next decade the numbers grew to an average of 150 with 196 dinners being served each year. Last night saw roughly 90 people braving the rain two days before Christmas.
“I know you hear anecdotes of this kind, but this is actual fact,” said Iworsky. “When I came back from Vietnam, I was actually cursed at and spat at. But now to see the attention these men and women are getting, the praise they are getting and the compliments, the cheering, it’s like a vindication that what happened to us was actually wrong and now Americans know what they should do to the troops who are actually in harm’s way.”
Attending his third dinner, Army Cpl. Anthony Klufts confirmed that his generation returned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a much better reception and was happy to be celebrating the season with his family and brothers and sisters in arms.
“There has been a lot of support for our guys coming home,” said Klufts. “I’ve been back for six years now, but a lot of my guys are coming back to open arms.”
Post 2016 member Paul “Jancy” Jancewicz, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Italy, Japan and Korea, and is a history teacher at Amesbury High School, has missed only one dinner in the past 12 years.
“The best part of it is that Amesbury and the local community doesn’t forget those who are serving and those who were serving,” said Jancewicz. “A lot of the guys and girls who come back tend to want to slide back into society and just chill out and not be reminded. And the fact that they offer this is a beautiful thing. It’s a wonderful meal and real community event that people work really hard to try to get together. It’s beautiful.”
Army 1st Sgt. Alex Puopolo, who served in Desert Storm in 1991 and in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2002-2003 and Iraq in 2007, enjoyed his meal of chicken cordon bleu with four of his five sons and his wife, Janelle.
“This is our fourth or fifth time here doing these dinners,” said Puopolo. “Amesbury has always been good about supporting the veterans and supporting the cause and it’s just a good feeling that the town puts this together every year. I appreciate it and my wife appreciates it because, when I was gone, she was at home taking care of all these guys.”