WEST POINT — On a day when hundreds of veterans and their families passed through the doors of West Point’s Brandin’ Iron Steak House, pausing to listen for a beat at any of the buzzing tables affirmed one of the big reasons why the restaurant partners with Saving Forgotten Warriors each year to treat local vets to a free Thanksgiving feast.

Whether with old friends or new ones made on the spot, people were having fun Monday, as the wait staff hustled to keep up with the steady crowd. At the table where Army vet Warren Stewart and his wife Elizabeth were sticking around after dinner with friends Virginia and Jim Howard (Jim’s also an Army vet), the foursome was having a downright hoot.

Asked if the event’s inundation with local politicians — a reliable hallmark of any proper get-together — was a bothersome distraction or added some welcome color, all four enthusiastically went for the second option.

“No! They’ve got to campaign somewhere!” laughed Jim Howard, who spent 30 years in the Army before leaving the service as a Colonel just as the Vietnam War was beginning to stir. “How else are they gonna see the people?” Virginia added.

For all four, the visit was their first time to join in what’s become an annual tradition. Brandin’ Iron’s Josh Speakman, who also serves on the board for Saving Forgotten Warriors, said none of the organizers or volunteers who’ve signed on for the Thanksgiving dinner over the past four years has ever regretted it.

“It’s been an adventure, but absolutely, I enjoy it,” he said. “The volunteers are eager to work, and it takes a lot of different people; different groups to make it happen. We’ve had a tremendous turnout this year. We’re around 900 plates served so far, with an hour to go, and we’ve still got plates we have to deliver, too.

“We team up with law enforcement to deliver those meals to the homebound vets who can’t get out, and seeing someone in uniform also helps those folks feel at ease, when they see someone approaching to knock on their door. The whole thing has grown exponentially from when we first started, and it’s just been a huge success all around.”

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