GALLIPOLIS — A contingent of Gallia County’s military service veterans recognized a familiar face at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4464 on a recent Friday.
They just weren’t accustomed to seeing U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson serving them chicken.
Johnson, an armed services veteran himself, has vowed to volunteer 100 hours of his time to a veterans-related charity or organization during 2016. On this particular day, Johnson was in town for the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Meet Your Elected Officials” event at Bossard Library. Shortly after 11 a.m., Johnson made his way over to VFW Post 4464 to spend a couple of hours serving and talking with veterans.
“I’m a veteran and I think we all need to do a better job of appreciating what our nation’s heroes have done to protect our freedoms and to secure our safety here at home,” he said.
Johnson said he has challenged his staff, constituents and all Americans to follow his lead by giving a bit of their time volunteering at local VA hospitals, assembling care packages for troops, reaching out to military families, getting involved with the Wounded Warrior Project, or supporting a vast array of other charities and veteran-related service organizations.
According to Benjamin Keeler, Johnson’s communications director, the congressman has already performed numerous hours of community service for veterans that include serving meals in Canfield and New Philadelphia, helping clean off old military equipment at a park in Jefferson County in preparation for Memorial Day, played board games and visited with veterans in Salem, assisted Harrison County fourth-and fifth-graders in writing letters to county veterans, and visited VA outpatient clinics.
“We’re hoping people become aware of it and then offer up ideas,” Keeler said. “That is exactly what happened when he served breakfast in Canfield. There will be a lot of these done in August when the House is out of session.”
Johnson said he began thinking about giving 100 hours of his time in 2016 while reflecting on the past. In his monthly column in December 2015, he wrote, “Looking back to 2001, President Bush rallied Americans in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. We were united in a way I had not experienced in my lifetime. He stood on the rubble of the World Trade Center and vowed that ‘the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.’ Al Qaeda heard from us, and they were on the run during the rest of his presidency. But, I think President Bush missed an important opportunity to convert that initial support — to marshal that national pride — into true, lasting civic involvement on the home front.”
Helping military veterans is one of those ways, he said.
“We owe (veterans) a debt of gratitude,” Johnson said. “This is a way for me to give something back to them. I’m a veteran myself. I am honored and humbled to have served my country, as are all of these men and women here.”
Johnson served for 26 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
In between serving pieces of chicken to his fellow veterans, Johnson said giving 100 hours of his time is a drop in the bucket compared to what the U.S. military’s men and women do every day.
“We’ve got men and women in uniform on the front lines right now in far-away places, away from their families, away from their children, that are doing the Lord’s work and making sure that we’re safe,” he said.
Johnson added that volunteering goes far beyond only serving a particular group of people.
“I think if we started reaching out to one another as Americans, you’d see a different conversation on Main Street,” he said. “It starts with an individual. It’s how we talk to our family. It’s how we relate to our neighbors, our co-workers, people that live across the street from us. It’s how we treat people.”
Reach Michael Johnson at 740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.