By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOVELAND - About this time last year, Destin Shoemaker was navigating a C-130 transport plane in and out of Baghdad to pick up prisoners and wounded soldiers and drop off cargo.
His nervous parents, Roxie and Dave Shoemaker, prayed a lot. They also found comfort in a meal with other military families at Paxton's Grill.
The Shoemakers aren't sure they'll return to the tavern April 27 for a reunion dinner. Destin, a 29-year-old captain, is back at Little Rock Air Force Base now. After four tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's unlikely he'll be sent there again, his mother said.
The Shoemakers figure somebody else might need their seat. But they won't forget the support and pride they felt at Paxton's a year ago.
"The dinner was such a wonderful thing for them to do. It made you realize that there are people out there in the same situation who have loved ones that are over there fighting, that people really care," Roxie Shoemaker said.
"What really got to me was the number of families who were experiencing the anxiety and fear of having their son or daughter or husband or wife or fiance involved in the war. It made me feel very proud of my son, and also very proud of all the men and women in the military."
Ninety people attended the dinner. Co-owner Kevin Egan realized just how important it was when a soldier on leave stopped in Paxton's a month ago, asked for the owner and told Egan how much the dinner had meant to his parents. That's when he decided to do it again.
"Last year, it was very early after the situation in Iraq started. All of us kind of thought, 'Hopefully a year from now we're not still in this situation,'" Egan said. "But, we are. So, we thought we will continue to do it as long as the need is there."
The free dinner for Gulf soldiers and families in the Loveland area who have or had a loved one serving in Afghanistan or Iraq is sponsored by Paxton's and David Miller Photography and Digital Imagining. Miller is a Vietnam veteran.
The meal will be Thanksgiving-style, with turkey and all the trimmings, much of which is donated by Paxton's suppliers. Paxton employees contribute their time to prepare and serve the food. Seatings are at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the tavern, 126 W. Loveland Ave.
Jim and Judy Poe, who have four sons in the military, will be there. Their youngest, Blake, a 22-year-old sergeant in the Army National Guard, is preparing to head to Iraq this summer.
Blake, a 2000 Loveland grad, was in Kuwait assigned to a combat engineering unit when his parents attended the dinner last year. He recently volunteered to go back to the gulf to build roads.
"It meant a lot to them to have the support," said Blake, who was home in Goshen Township on leave last week.
As Jim Poe puts it: "It was almost like a military Alcoholics Anonymous, I guess."
If You Go
What: Greater Loveland Service Family Reunion and Welcome Home Dinner.
Who: For families who have or had loved ones serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, and for soldiers who have served there.
When: April 27, seatings at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Where: Paxton's Grill, 126 W. Loveland Ave., historic downtown Loveland.
Reservations: 683-7195 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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