The long line of hungry people started at the back of Tyler’s Fire Station No. 5 engine bay, extending past the door and around the corner.
When firefighters cook, crowds come.
Once a year, the Tyler fire department fires up barbecue pits and hosts a luncheon to honor the county’s veterans. The department served more than 500 people Tuesday afternoon, including city personnel and special veteran guests.
The event was one of many happening a day early to thank those who serve in the armed forces for Veterans Day. The festivities will continue on Wednesday.
In the back of the station, three barbecue pits cooled down after smoking pounds and pounds of brisket, turkey, sausage and ham. Tyler firefighters manned the pits for 24 hours to have enough food.
“We can go buy the food somewhere, but we choose to do it ourselves,” Chief Tim Johnson said, adding he looks forward to the event each year.
Smith County is home to an estimated 18,000 veterans.
“We can take pause from our everyday lives to thank them for sacrificing their freedom to guarantee ours …” Councilman Darryl Bowdre said. “I want to thank each of you who have loyally served your country, and as a city councilman I’m proud that you call Tyler home. God bless you, and God bless America.”
Dr. Doug Haning, the event’s keynote speaker, joked that the event was a fitting birthday lunch for the Marine Corps, which was established on Nov. 10, 1775.
Haning is a fourth-generation veteran, who currently serves as the reserve deputy and chaplain for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office. He’s also the chaplain for the Tyler Police Department and the Smith County Volunteer Firefighters Association, which has 12 volunteer departments.
Haning said veterans are a special type of person, no matter which branch they served in.
He said .4 percent of the U.S. population is actively serving in the various military branches. There are 22 million veterans alive, making up 7.3 percent of the population.
“America is not great because of all the things we have, but America is great because it is a country where free people volunteer to leave the comfort of their home and friends, and get on a plane or bus … to a yelling and screaming (drill) instructor …” he said. “People do that because they love something greater than themselves.”
At a separate Tuesday event, students at Bell Elementary School in Tyler opened their doors to the community on Tuesday for a special program to honor area veterans in advance of Veteran's Day.
William A. Kahn, a probation officer for Smith County Juvenile Services, was guest speaker for the event.
Kahn is a retired Air Force technical sergeant who served 20 years with the USAF Pararescue, an elite combat force trained to execute rescue operations. Kahn told students what Veteran's Day meant to him and thanked them for remembering his service and that of other members of all service branches.
Andy Brosig contributed to this report
Veterans Day events
Free meals for veterans:
7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Free IHOP pancakes: The restaurant, 115 W. Southwest Loop 323, will serve a short stack of buttermilk pancakes crowned with glazed strawberries, blueberry compote and whipped topping - free for veterans and active duty.
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Free lunch at Texas Roadhouse: The restaurant, 2101 ESE Loop 323, offers its fifth annual Texas-sized thank you for serving event. All veterans, including all active, retired or former U.S. military, can choose one of 10 free entrees. Proof of service includes military or VA card, or discharge papers.
City of Tyler Veterans Day Celebration: Festivities will kick off with a prayer service at Marvin United Methodist Church, 300 W. Erwin St., followed by a freedom walk to the T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza, where a traditional military ceremony will commence at noon. Golf cart shuttles will be available for those unable to walk to the plaza.
Parade & Cookout:Watkins-Logan Texas State Veterans Home, 11466 Honor Lane in Tyler, will host a parade that will travel through the neighborhood surrounding the home, followed by a cookout sponsored by Brookshire Grocery Co. The cookout is open to the public.
Christian Heritage School Veterans Day Celebration: Events are at the school, 961 County Road 1143 in Tyler.
Kilgore College Veterans Day Program: Events are in the Devall Student Center Ballroom on campus, 1100 Broadway Blvd.
Vietnam Veterans Honored at UT Tyler: The Daughters of the American Revolution will honor Vietnam Veterans in an event planned to recognize veterans on the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Certificates will be presented by representatives of the local DAR Chapter on the third floor of the Robert R. Muntz Library.
Tyler ISD Campus
Ceremonies and Events:
7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the
Clarkston Elementary School
2915 Williamsburg Drive, Tyler
Veterans Day Breakfast
8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Breakfast in the library
Boulter Middle School
2926 Garden Valley Road
9:30 a.m. Program begins in the cafeteria
8:45 a.m. Wednesday at the flag pole
Austin Elementary School
1105 West Franklin St., Tyler
Veterans Day Program
9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Wednesday
Hogg Middle School
920 S. Broadway
Veterans Day Ceremony
11 a.m. Wednesday
Bell Elementary Global Communications Academy
Watkins-Logan Texas State Veterans Home
Veterans Day Parade participants
2 p.m.to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday
Orr Elementary School
3350 Pine Haven Road
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Caldwell Elementary Arts Academy Luncheon
331 S. College Ave., Tyler
Veterans Day Luncheon
1:45 p.m. Thursday
Owens Elementary School
11780 CR 168
Veterans Day Musical Program
8:30 a.m. Thursday
Douglas Elementary School
1525 N. Carlyle Ave.