For the ninth year, a large crowd gathered to honor the U.S. Military Veterans hunting in the 2017 Mid-America Paralyzed Veterans of America Black Powder Hunt hosted and organized by the River Bottom Sportsmen.

After the invocation by Leroy Orr, the flag raising commenced.

“Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?” organizer and host Jack Dalrymple said, as the large, five stories tall, American garrison flag was raised up the side of the building for display on Main Street in salute as a sign of appreciation.

The flag raising was assisted by John Landers local Boy Scout Troop No.54, and the B.A.C.A.(Bikers Against Child Abuse) motorcycle organization. The Miami Fire Department brought an engine truck and the Miami Police Department helped cordon off the downtown block.

The Quapaw Tribe Fire/EMS Honor Guard with members Cory Humble, Thomas Kamumo and Kyle Arnall standing at attention throughout the ceremony.

Mid-America MPVA's President Bill Kokendoffer introduced the seven veterans; Shawn Tracy, Michael Galloway, James “Jim” Fairbanks, Dennis McManus, Dr. Robert Hopper, Sheri Carter, and Lyle Hensley.

Schoolchildren from Commerce Middle School and Alexander Elementary performed songs in tribute to the veterans as Ashton Myers signed along to music.

Honors, certificates, gifts and plaques were presented to the veterans in appreciation for their service and sacrifice by local politicians Oklahoma State Representatives Ben Loring (D-Miami) and Josh West (R-Grove), city officials Miami City Manager Dean Kruithof and Commerce Mayor Michael Hart and Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau's Chuck McKibben and Lauren Hart, INTEGRIS Miami Hospital representative Dr. Mark Osborn, NEO A&M College Student Body Government President Dustin Foster, Miami High School Student Council President Dillon Rasberry, and the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle organization representatives.

Osborn said he had worked with Hopper for many years and had no idea of the depth of his service to our nation.

Foster pointed out the well-deserved hospitality and welcome the River Bottom Sportsmen have provided for the past nine years to U.S. Veterans from across the nation and thanked the organization for providing scholarships to NEO students.

“We may not all fight in wars like you all have, but some of us will continue the fight in our communities and state, and some of us will fight for freedom on a national scale, and some of us will go into the Armed Forces and risk what you risked,” Rasberry said, and thanked the veterans.

Loring told the veteran hunters it was great to have them here in the community and he thanked Dalrymple and the River Bottom Sportsmen for their continued efforts in organizing and providing the event and welcomed and recognized each veteran individually.

“They have dedicated so much of their time in working out a program,” he said. “It's a great honor to help welcome you to our community. We hope you have a weekend full of fun. I hope it's a great opportunity for fellowship for all of you, and I can assure you, you're going to have lots of awesome food.”

West agreed.

“We live by value duty respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage, those are the Army values, and the biggest one in there is selfless service. You all put the needs of your fellow man and woman above your own,” saidWest, a veteran himself. “...We love you, and God bless the United States of America.”

The PVA hunters will be treated to hunting, good food, lodging and hospitality in Miami during the four-day experience at the Dalrymple Farm on the Neosho River.

A flag retirement ceremony is part of the weekend events at noon on Saturday at Dalrymple Farms is set to be conducted by the PVA and Boy Scouts.

The event comes together every year, completely through hundreds of volunteer hours from the River Bottom Sportsmen, and donations of many community members.

“There are countless people behind the scenes that don't get any recognition, and we're not doing it for that,” River Bottom Sportsmen member and organizer Bob Eads said. “...There's a bunch of unsung heroes. They make sure these guys have a safe and memorable hunt, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart because they make it all possible.”

River Bottom Sportsmen's Shannon Duhon seconded the appreciation and gratitude for the volunteers involved.

“I am just going to close with this, I'm so glad that these young children, these students are here today because I think it's important in this day and age to understand, and truly understand, what the word hero means,” Duhon said. “Because heroes do wear uniforms, they don't just play games. Am I right?”

The crowd broke into applause and nods of approval.

“They answer the call 24/7 to protect your homes in the case of a fire, if you're hurt, and you're in a wreck, or you need help, they're the ones who come to your aid and make sure that you get the help and attention that you need, they patrol our streets at night to keep our city safe, and keep us all safe in our homes, Amen?," Duhon continued. "But they also protect freedom at home and abroad, and for that they are heroes!

"Today, young men and woman, you have the opportunity to meet some of America's finest, America's heroes, our firemen, our policemen, our paramedics, our EMTs, and most importantly the brave men and woman who served this country in the United State Armed Forces! Let's give them a round of applause!”

The crowd broke into applause, whistles, and shouts of support, and sent the veterans off to hunt with handshakes and words of gratitude.