A group of servicemen try to “catch the big one” during the annual American Heroes Day on Friday.

Almost 100 veterans and active military personnel from all branches of the service, including a pair of World War II veterans who served with Gen. George Patton, made their way to the Cove on Friday, enjoying a day of camaraderie and friendly competition in the annual American Heroes Day hosted by Ward Burton.

Almost 20 National Guardsmen were on hand to volunteer their services as well, according to Sue Adams, office manager for the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, which puts on the event.

Curtis Hamlett of Charlotte County and George Goodman of Altavista both served with Gen. Patton overseas — Goodman with an AAA anti-aircraft unit and Hamlett as an M-1 rifleman in the 3rd Army.

Hamlett, drafted out of Roxboro but a resident of Brookneal, spent the last several months of the war as a prisoner in several German prison camps after being captured in late 1944 while on a scouting mission behind enemy lines during the Battle of the Bulge.

“We lost several mechanized vehicles due to mines, and they chose two platoons to go behind German lines and find out what we were fighting,” said Hamlett.

Hamlett and his fellow soldiers found out they were surrounded and fought the Germans for about 12 hours until early the next morning.

He found shelter in what he described as a hunting lodge having beautiful mahogany furniture and several animal trophies mounted on the wall.

Hamlet recalls he laid his backpack, two bandoliers of ammunition, his overcoat and two blankets on a table and looked to his left, and a German had a burp gun on him.

“What do you do?” said Hamlett. “What was left of our detachment was captured, and I was a POW for six months. That was some of the hardest six months I’ve ever seen.”

Goodman, of Altavista, served in the U.S. Army with the 567 AAA anti-aircraft artillery unit.

Goodman’s battalion was the first to enter Germany on the east side of the Rhine River in Mainz.

Combat engineers put a pontoon bridge across the river, at that time the longest pontoon bridge in the world, according to Goodman, who lost one good friend from home when his friend got hit by shrapnel.

Goodman, who later was assigned to Bavaria and Germany guarding 1,000 prisoners, also served 18 months in Yokohoma, Japan with the 8th Army Judge Advocate section. He retired in 1963 with 20 years of service.

A pair of veterans attending Friday’s event was appreciative of Burton giving them the opportunity to attend, including Halifax County resident Danny Jackson and Coast Guard veteran Gary Bohr.

Jackson, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1970-1971, served as county finance director for 13 years.

“I like the variety of events,” said Jackson, including fishing and archery. I think it’s nice of Ward to do this for the veterans,” added Jackson, who has attended several American Heroes Day events.

Several servicemen from different branches of the military were on hand on Friday, and Jackson said he enjoys speaking with them and sharing their military experiences.

Bohr, who found out about the event from a friend, had already participated in skeet shooting and fishing but still had archery on his list.

“I didn’t catch the biggest fish, but I caught the first one,” Bohr said with a smile.

A 20-year veteran with the U.S. Coast Guard, Bohr served in stations including France, Spain, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Cuba and Argentina.

His uncle was in the Coast Guard for 20 years, according to Bohr, who said he enjoys hearing fellow servicemen relate their different experiences.

“Ward does a very good job with this,” added Bohr.

The American Heroes event, held each year for the past 13 years at The Cove, presents an opportunity for military personnel, young and old, especially veterans, to engage in a relaxing afternoon of outdoor activities, courtesy of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation and a myriad of sponsors.

Veterans and active military compete in three activities during the day, including archery, skeet and target shooting and fishing, with a game of corn hole sometimes thrown in for good measure.

At the end of the day, prizes were awarded to the best performers in each of the activities with random drawings for other prizes, and lunch and dinner were provided.

Doug Ford reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.

Doug Ford covers news and sports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at dford@gazettevirginian.com.