In 2009, three friends, Greg Harrington, Lisa Hayes and Mike Johnson were sitting together over lunch at Village Deli in Wake Forest and were discussing ideas on how to give back to the community. These three had worked together for many years on volunteer projects throughout Wake Forest and wanted to start something new which would make a difference.
Greg is a Vietnam Veteran, Lisa comes from a family with a long history of military service, and Mike served in the military. They somehow got around to talking about the lack of recognition for our veterans and how so many veterans have never been thanked for their service.
They decided that day it was important to have a dinner honoring our Purple Heart recipients where our community could come together to honor, recognize and thank them.
An important part of this vision was to have everyone in the community involved, including our citizens, students, volunteers, civic organizations, businesses and of course, our military organizations.
A committee and board of directors for our new non-profit was formed. Our goal was to raise enough sponsorships to host an annual dinner, and to invite the Purple Heart recipients and their families to attend at no charge. From the beginning, through the present time, all funds raised go directly back into the non-profit to focus on our mission. There are no paid staff. The dinner is made possible by the number of volunteers who freely donate their time to honor all of you.
Our first dinner, the first of its kind in this state and region, was held in November 2009, at the Ledford Center on the Seminary campus. We honored 28 recipients and four families and had approximately 180 attendees.
After the first dinner, the date was changed to be held in August, so it would be close to the national Purple Heart Day.
Every year since then, this banquet has grown and finds us here in 2018 honoring 80 recipients and with more than 650 attendees.
We have had recipients and guests from around the region, including Henderson, Durham, Morehead City and Garner. We most definitely are not limited to the Wake Forest area and welcome all who wish to attend. Our speakers have included a WWII fighter pilot, four star generals, an active duty command sergeant major, a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam, a blind active duty captain, a retired sergeant who lost both logs, and a colonel who was portrayed in “Black Hawk Down”.
As the success and popularity of these dinners grew, other towns and cities wanted to participate. We begin receiving inquiries from across the state asking for assistance in duplicating our model. Our committee created a template and began sharing it with other towns. After a few years, a state chapter, the Purple Heart Foundation of North Carolina was formed by some of our board members to help spread our vision.
Since that time, dinners using our model are being held across the state in Goldsboro, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Wilmington, New Bern and Fayetteville.
Wake Forest is proud to be the birthplace in our state to honor our Purple Heart Recipients. Our foundation, all of our volunteers, organizations and business sponsors as well as our town government remain committed to honoring the sacrifices of our veterans and their families.
And while our annual banquet will always be our main focus, members of our foundation have been instrumental in building on our vision and have helped make other changes in our community: Since our first dinner, Wake Forest was the first in the state to be designated a Purple Heart Community, and had that designation before the state did. We offer a scholarship to Purple Heart Recipients and their families. We are now into our 5th year of our monthly Flag Raising Ceremony, held at Wake Forest Town Hall, to honor deceased veterans. Town government recognizes Purple Heart week each year and passes resolutions recognizing our Purple Heart Recipients. Our new Town limit signs prominently proclaim Wake Forest as a “Purple Heart Community.” Our Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for the Arts now proudly offers veterans programming including “Operation Art.” Our committee is working on a Purple Heart Memorial to be placed on town property and is extremely proud and humbled to bring The Wall That Heals to Wake Forest in October of this year (2018).
The past 10 years have gone by in a blur and we look forward to continuing our work and furthering awareness of the military veterans in our community.
We want our veterans to know it has been an honor and a privilege for all of us to recognize all of you and to express our thankfulness for your service, your sacrifices, and all that you have given to our country.