“We didn’t know if we’d be able to do this,” said Jeff Walsh, base commander of the United States Submarines Veterans Club.
He said it wasn’t until last Tuesday that they got the green light from the Ledge Light Health District to continue the club’s Thanksgiving tradition.
Walsh was joined by dozens of volunteers, scurrying around the Groton clubhouse to set and reset the tables, pile food onto plates, and fill to-go orders, on Thursday.
“A lot of these kids have never been away from home,” Walsh said. “We are their family.”
For the past 20 years, local navy veterans have volunteered to give the new recruits a taste of home for the holiday.
The club prepared 100 pounds of squash, 300 pounds of potatoes, and 150 turkeys with the help of 100 volunteers in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.
“Without them, I couldn’t do it,” said Walsh.
“Food was delicious,” said Chad Floyd of Sacramento, California.
“This is actually really good,” added 19-year-old Paolo Camacho of Harlingen, Texas. “One of the best meals that I’ve had in a while.”
Camacho was far away from her family in Texas, for the first time.
“I’m like a huge family person so it’s really hard,” she explained.
Her table-mate, Drelyn Jackson, also missed his family in the Windy City.
“This right here, this is a good feeling. I like this right here,” said the Chicago 20-year-old.
The club worked with the local health department to make sure the event could happen safely. Instead of packing the place, sailors came in shifts throughout the day, less than 50 at a time. After 45 minutes, it was back to their bubble in the barracks.
“When we’re on base and on quarantine we’ve got to stay separated, we can’t be all close upon each other. We can’t really communicate how we would like to and this is great camaraderie. This brings great moral onto the base,” Jackson said.
In minutes, volunteers cleared and sanitize the tables and got them ready for the next group. Meals were served family-style to keep people from congregating at the buffet.
Under a tent in the pouring rain, local navy veterans manned the deep fryers.
“Cause they’re family. They’re my fellow submariners,” said Scott Howard.
Howard remembered his first Thanksgiving in the Navy in 1975.
“I was in Alaska my first time away from home and that was really really tough,” he recalled. “It hurts in the heart.”
Chad Floyd, 22, came from the opposite coast (Sacramento, CA) to serve.
“I love to see it, I love to see how the submarine community comes together and helps each other out,” he said of the volunteer effort. “I just seriously appreciate all the work that they put in.”
“To be able to sit down and socialize with my shipmates and meet new people and just to feel at home a little bit, it’s nice,” added Camacho.
Usually, the veterans also feed families and first responders, but the pandemic made that impossible this year.
Though the gathering was smaller, the mission was still the same: to fill the stomachs and their hearts of sailors this Thanksgiving.