After stormy weather cleared from west to east in the early morning hours Saturday, the annual Tailgate with a Hero event took place near Tarrant Lake on the Veterans’ Administration campus in Temple.
The invitation to the event, which was widely circulated via social media, read, “Join us for a tailgate party and open fishing honoring our veterans and their families letting them know that their service and sacrifices are not forgotten!”
Veterans and their families were invited to fish in the lake beginning around 11 a.m. Then, at noon, boxed barbecue lunches were served by volunteers to the participants.
Tailgate with a Hero is a ministry of the Mission Bend United Methodist Church in Houston.
According to the church’s web site, the idea for the ministry originated within a men’s Sunday School class at the church, known as “Just Us Guys.”
Tailgate with a Hero’s primary organizer, Ralph Wissel, busily sent email communications and web site updates to his volunteers and partner organizations to make sure the logistically intensive food service effort went off with decency and order.
In one of Wissel’s notes to his volunteers, he instructed, “As always, wear your favorite team gear and bring your patience and a good attitude. Things rarely go exactly according to plan.”
Nonetheless, there was no shortage of planning on Wissel’s part in making this event a reality for the veterans which were served.
Wissel’s wife worked with Kroger to obtain 600 servings of brisket for the event at just $1.99 per pound, and they worked with Rene Esparza at Goya Foods to get 600 servings of cowboy beans donated.
A Houston businessman donated the 170 pounds of sausage needed for the event, and donated the freezer necessary to keep the meat in, as well.
Devin Bily, owner of two Houston-area restaurants — The Backyard Grill and The Creekwood Grill — volunteered to smoke the 20 briskets for the event free of charge.
Trinity Anglican Church of Lago Vista stepped up to bake 300 large potatoes, and the VA’s Voluntary Services personnel saw to it that the location and on-site logistics were nailed down and that desserts and drinks were covered.
Musical entertainment for the event was provided by Fort Hood’s Lonestar Brass Band. According to trombone player Sgt. John Houston and trumpet player Spc. Nathan Forrest, the mission of the band is to provide encouragement through music to veterans and to the public. As such, the band plays at many VA venues, as well as at schools, sporting events and more.
As I spoke with several of the veterans standing in line for barbecue, some, like Army veteran David Pate of Waco, reported scant fishing results. Others, like Navy veteran Christopher Reyes, reported solid fishing.
Reyes arrived early to get a prime bank fishing location on the tip of the peninsula on Tarrant Lake.
“The early bird gets the worm,” said Reyes, who landed 10 catfish by 1 p.m., which he shared with other veterans. Reyes reported that a secret doughy stinkbait recipe did the trick when fished on a two-hook bottom rig.
According to John Tibbs, TPWD Inland Fisheries District Supervisor for the Waco region, approximately 500 catfish, each 12-plus inches in length, were stocked on Friday. These fish, referred to by TPWD personnel as “special event catfish,” take over a year to grow out to this size — a size much larger than the fry- and fingerling-sized fish TPWD normally uses for their routine reservoir stocking efforts.
These special event catfish typically weigh about three-quarters of a pound.
Tibbs and some of his Inland Fisheries staff, assisted by TPWD game wardens, were on hand to make tackle available to those without, and to generally be of any assistance to young, old, able-bodied and disabled alike at lakeside.
Reggie Hardy of VA Voluntary Services said next year’s event is already slated for May 2, the first Saturday in May of 2020.
A previous, similar event put on by the Tailgate With a Hero organization took place at the VA in Temple in early May of 2017, but last year’s planned event was cancelled due to severe weather.
This year, Quentin Kimble, also with VA Voluntary Services, wisely put into place a contingency plan for the abundant rainfall which was forecast. To prevent a cancellation, he saw to it that the barbecue and music venue was moved to the emergency room area near the main campus instead of keeping it in the soggy lake area as was originally planned. As a result, the event went off without a hitch and the participants scarcely noticed that any such change in the plan had even taken place.
In all, approximately 300 participants came, fished, dined, danced, won prizes, enjoyed the company of other veterans, and reveled in the drying, clearing weather after a week of rain and gloom.