By Corey Jones
By most accounts, Melissa Jarboe worked tirelessly to lay the foundation for Saturday evening’s Salute Our Heroes Gala.
Looking across the ballroom at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center at more than 200 people mingling, many dressed in military or law enforcement uniforms, she couldn’t help but hope the inaugural event will grow into an annual occasion to honor the military not just from the Topeka area but from across the country.
“How amazing does it look to have so many great patriots, literally patriotic leaders of our community, in one room?” an excited Jarboe said.
Col. Ronald Krueger, commander of the 190th Air Refueling Wing, spoke as the guest of honor for the event, which was put on by Jarboe and the foundation she formed after her husband, Jamie, died of wounds suffered by a sniper’s bullet while on foot patrol in Afghanistan.
“Melissa’s efforts have truly amazed me,” Krueger said, adding that it inspires not only him but the entire 190th Air Refueling Wing of the Kansas National Guard.
Reasons for signing up with the military are as varied as the people who serve, he said, but one distinct reason is for the people in their lives — parents, spouses, children, friends and neighbors.
“Military service really is a family affair,” Krueger said.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., delivered a video message at the event’s outset after Jarboe recorded him several days prior because he wasn’t well enough physically with a knee issue to make the gala.
“First, understand these young men and women in some cases risk their lives to protect the people in the Topeka area, as well as the rest of the nation,” said Dole, dressed in a shirt and tie. “So we have a debt to the veterans.”
The Russell native drew attention to the capital city’s Veterans Day parade set for 11 a.m. Monday in downtown. He said communities need to recognize veterans of all wars and also provide them support — be it caregivers or other forms of help.
“Surely someone out there would be more than happy to assist,” Dole said.
Ron Brown, chief of police for Topeka Unified School District 501, was master of ceremonies. When Jarboe phoned Brown to ask for his help, he didn’t bat an eye.
“I just think that Melissa Jarboe is a phenomenal individual because she had a vision to do this, and she put this entire thing together from the ground up,” he said.
Brown, retired from the Marine Corps and as a major of the Topeka Police Department, said the camaraderie of veterans supporting veterans was palpable.
“It’s a wonderful tribute to all the veterans because quite often you retire and that’s kind of it. You hang up your uniform and you’re done,” Brown said. “This gives a lot of those guys an opportunity to come back and spend time together.”
Several awards were bestowed upon groups for their dedication and service to veterans:
■ Daughters of the American Revolution.
■ ABATE District 4.
■ American Legion Auxiliary.
■ American Legion.
■ Vietnam Veterans of America.
■ Paralyzed Veterans of America.
My name is Melissa Jarboe, military spouse, wounded warrior wife and war widow. Today and everyday moving forward, I will honor the sacrifice of our men and women who selflessly serve our nation.