By: Julia Deng
MIDLAND - Twenty wounded veterans from across the nation were treated to a banquet at the Horseshoe Arena Thursday, as part of the 11th annual Hunt for Heroes event hosted by local non-profit organization, Show of Support.
Nic Transtrum, one of the 20 heroes recognized for his sacrifices, praised Midland for "having such a patriotic community."
"My wife [April] and I arrived yesterday and it's been people just pampering us and taking care of us," he said.
"But it's not just about the veterans. To me, patriotism is all of our country working together to support the freedoms that we have."
Transtrum supported those freedoms by serving in the United States Army for nine years. He was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq, where he flew about 80 combat missions.
He and the 19 other veterans, along with their wives, were welcomed to the Horseshoe Arena by a cheering crowd and Patriot Guard procession.
Mark Cooper, a Patriot Guard Rider who attended the Hunt for Heroes event for eight consecutive years, said this year's veterans were "a special group of great guys."
"It seems like every year, the bunch of soldiers and wives who come in? They get better every year. They come from [as far away as] New York, Idaho, Georgia."
Cooper's fellow Patriot Guard Rider, Bill McNeill, said this evening's fanfare wasn't the same hero's welcome he received after returning from Vietnam.
"We were spit on, I was called a baby killer, we were told to get out of uniform as quick as we could and [we were told,] don't tell nobody that you've been to Vietnam," said McNeill.
He said "just a 'thank you' or a pat on the back" would have made "a huge difference" to him.
His own experience returning from combat inspired him to support younger veterans at Midland's Show of Support event.
"No other veteran is gonna be treated the way we were treated," McNeill said.
"And I'm gonna see to that."