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Former NASCAR driver hosts day at wildlife refuge

Friday was a day for giving back to patriotic American veterans who have served their country well.

The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation American Heroes event brought 45 American heroes and more than two dozen volunteers to former NASCAR racecar driver Ward Burton’s wildlife refuge at The Cove.

The weekend before Memorial Day, veterans spanning from WWII to present day conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were treated to a fun-filled day of archery, shooting and fishing.

And they got to hear from special guest speaker John E. Nevola who has written a book entitled “The Last Jump” — a book about the home front during WWII.

The author told veterans the book shows contributions made by blacks and women during WWII and focuses on a modern day person trying to solve a family mystery with the help of four WWII veterans.

Proceeds from the book are donated to the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund, which goes to assist in educating children of fallen soldiers.

Another individual participating in the event at The Cove was Patriot Guard Rider Kathy Tuck.

She came to the event to share with veterans what the Patriot Guard Riders do and how they are dedicated to veterans and their families. “We just want to let them know that we are here for them,” she said.

Most of those who participated in the day’s event said they were first timers to The Cove.

Ken Brown, retired Navy who served from 1954 to 1967, said this was his first time participating.

“I didn’t know about it until my son told me. I think it’s great what Ward is doing. I think I’ll enjoy it,” he said.

Another participant, WWII Navy veteran Tommy Nelson, said he enlisted at 15 and was out at 18.

“I was glad to get back home.”

Also a first timer at The Cove event, Neslon said, “I am having a good time and meeting people.”

He said he has ridden motorcycles for 64 years and looks forward “to living the next day.”

Former Marine and Vietnam era veteran Fuzzy Melton also was on hand for the American Heroes event.

Melton, a Patriot Guard Rider, was in service from 1972 to 1975 and said he was looking forward to the day’s events.

“I always enjoy meeting people and having a good time,” he said.

Jim Brown, who has been in the National Guard for 31 years and served in Iraq, said he too was participating in American Heroes for the first time.

Brown said he had heard about the event before but was “curious to see what it was” for himself and was looking forward to the “enjoyment of what he (Burton) had to offer.”

A husband and wife veteran team also were first timers participating in Friday’s event.

Married Army veterans Mark and Lindsey Grindall of Statesville, N.C., both served in Iraq.

Lindsey, who now works as a massage therapist, said she learned of the event through a client.

“We are hoping to have fun. This event is a well deserved getaway,” the Grindalls agreed.

After a day filled with plenty of fishing, shooting and archery, participants were treated to music by country singer Randy Dukes and a barbecue dinner.

At the conclusion of the event, Burton was recognized for his hard work and dedication to the American veterans and for his environmental efforts and presented a letter from the Director of Freedom Alliance Col. Oliver North.