The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™’s 2023 Armed Forces Appreciation Day, presented by Crown Royal, was a heartwarming success. This annual tribute honors, remembers and thanks active and retired service members and their families for protecting the freedoms and peace of our country.

This year’s event hosted approximately 3,700 service members from five military branches, as well as the Merchant Marines. War veterans from all conflicts since World War II were represented.

“I am grateful to work with my fellow committee volunteers and the 35,000 volunteers of the Show to put on a special day where we honor our heroes,” Spike Garcia, U.S. Air Force retired Senior Master Sgt. and Armed Forces Appreciation Committee chair, said. “I served in the military for over 26 years, and I am glad to continue to serve those who protect our community and country. As we say on the committee, ‘it’s one team, one mission!’”

Bill Rawl, a U.S. Air Force Korean War Veteran, was all smiles describing his police-escorted ride to the Show. “I feel honored and proud. I served in what was known as the ‘forgotten war,’ but to have so many people say thank you today—we are no longer forgotten,” said Rawl as tears filled his eyes.

Charles Mills and George Offenhymer, ages 102 and 99, attended, representing the World War II Merchant Marines. “I am honored to be here sharing my experiences and the history of the U.S. Merchant Marines,” Mills said. “Not many people know the sacrifices we made.”

Mills and Offenhymer are both Congressional Gold Medal recipients. This honor is Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions. The pair were greeted by rodeo attendees, who, one after another, thanked them for their service with a handshake. “We couldn’t ask for a better day,” Offenhymer said. “To get to be cowboys for a day is a childhood dream come true.”

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Montano, currently serving at Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood), expressed his excitement and gratitude. “This is a celebration of us,” he said. “The opportunity to share this with my family—to truly have a day off to just be a dad and a husband—is priceless. To be treated like celebrities, with handshakes and thank yous from so many—what an extraordinary way to be thanked for our service.”

In addition to recognizing servicemen and women throughout the day, more than 600 military recruits committed themselves to the service of our country and were sworn in. “[It was] breathtaking,” retired U.S. Army Col. Dora Edwards said. “My most heartfelt and astonishing moment was hearing hundreds of new recruits take the oath of enlistment. Thank you, Houston rodeo.”  Edwards is mother of two “military brats,” her daughter, Jaelynd, Miss League City Teen, who was volunteering, shared “It was my honor to participate in this day to celebrate the lives of those who protect our country and the children who sacrificed their childhood.” 

“Texas is a proud supporter of the military, and the Houston rodeo spurs that to a whole new level,” U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joe Edwards said. Active Duty U.S. Army Lt. Col. Sean Donovan summed the day off best, “The expression of gratitude here for all of us today is beyond words. All I can say is ‘God Bless Texas!’”