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4th Annual Armed Forces Banquet and Gala



By Shelly Morrill  
BDN Staff Writer 

Wednesday night's 4th Annual Armed Forces Banquet and Gala on the Showboat Branson Belle featured several thousand honored guests service men and women considered missing in action.

Though the honored guests were unable to attend, their presence was felt during the program's "missing man ceremony."

"It's a ceremony that you'll  never see anyplace else," said Ret. Maj. Steve Presley, of Eagle Travel of the Ozarks, who organized the event.

 "It's really a special evening for everybody involved. That's what we're trying to do in honor of these veterans. This is a celebration of service to our country."

At each place setting, votive candles burned in memory of those MIA. Cards bearing the name of a MIA soldier were also put at each seat.

On stage, a table bearing a single, red rose was set for one. "Everyone knows it could have as easily been one of us to have our name on that card," said Mike Radford, the evening's master ceremonies. "(They) are not forgotten.  Life is so fragile it's also so dear."

After toasting the honored guests, Ret. Army Lt. Col. Rick Ziegenfuss, "President of the Mess," received points of  order from audience members calling for toasts to President Bill Clinton, each military organization and the ladies that stand behind them.

"This is how the military has celebrated all through history," Presley said. "We've got all branches of service. They're coming from all over the country."

During the program, Lt. Col. Frank Baker, member of the Mozark Chapter of The  Retired Officers Association, announced that Ziegenfuss is this year's recipient of the  organizations True American Hero award.

"Every year, the MOZARK Chapter of TROA is fortunate enough to select an area veteran that has made a significant contribution towards goals we all strive for here - making Branson the year-round home for all veterans," Baker said.

 "(Ziegenfuss) has given a tremendous amount of his own time and effort to help  make this homecoming week and many other very nice veterans' shows and occasions throughout the year a tremendous success for our local area."

Ziegenfuss' name was added to a plaque to be placed at Mike Radford's Remember When Veterans Cafe, located  in the Radisson. Past recipients of the award include Tim Rogers, who combined efforts with Tony Orlando in beginning "Veterans Homecoming" activities, and Branson Mayor Lou Schaefer.

Also in attendance at the gala were several members of this year's recipient of the the Tuskegee Airmen, Korean War Chosin Few survivors, members of the Mid-America Chapter of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, several former prisoners of war and Lt. Gen Don Parker who was director of Army staff during Operation Desert Storm.


SFC Bryan Voisard, advisor to the New York State National Guard from Auburn, New York, "seated" our 500 honored guests - the POW/MIAs that could not join our celebration. Hundreds of men captured during the battle at the Chosin Reservoir and still missing were "introduced" as guests.

A toast concluded the POW/MIA service. Dinner was then served to more than 500 participants aboard the SHOWBOAT BRANSON BELLE. Dinner was followed by the Branson Belle's award winning, "Steppin' Out" Show.



CWO4 Bill Medsker, USA (Ret) of Graham, MO joined his flight instructor from years ago CWO2 Al Smith, USA (Ret) and his wife Karen, who came in from Fort Worth, Texas for the Gala and Homecoming events. 


The evening concluded with many guest's enjoying the patriotic atmosphere of the Radisson's "Mike Radford's R&R bar and Veteran's Cafe". Members of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association Mid America Chapter and POW/MIA parents, Mary and Joe Milliner joined us on the boat, and in the Lounge.

Mayor Lou Schaeffer, Judge Robert Decatur, Mike and Shari Radford, Tim Rogers, and many of Branson's VIP's stopped by to enjoy the Radisson hospitality.



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