Restaurant on mission to support troops

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Let it be known, he who hath shed blood in defense of his homeland shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen. — George Washington

SALISBURY — When customers first walk into the new Uncle Buck’s restaurant on South Main Street, one of the first things they see is a waist-high box, painted like an American flag.
The box accepts worn U.S flags.
Powles Funeral Home and Carolina Cremation periodically picks up these retired flags and makes sure they are used for one last patriotic duty.
Every veteran cremated by the funeral home has a retired U.S. flag with him or her.
But the tributes to veterans at the newly relocated Uncle Buck’s All-American Pub and Grill hardly end with the flag box. A whole wall honors men and women in the military with flags and complete uniforms — in frames — from each branch of the military.
Plus, there are “We Support Our Troops” and POW/MIA banners on the walls. Every veteran and current serviceman who dines at the restaurant is encouraged to take time before leaving to sign a banner.
In a way, the wall was christened Monday when Uncle Buck’s owners Scott and Judy Howard held a special appreciation night, feeding veterans, servicemen and their families for free.
“He doesn’t care if they are a post commander or a homeless vet,” said Russ Roakes of Powles Funeral Home, a big partner in the event. “He is taking care of them.”
The Rowan County Veterans Honor Guard was on hand to present the colors. Tonia Hurst sang the national anthem. Vietnam veteran Rodney Cress served as emcee, and a special flag presentation was made to Shannon Elrod, sister of Nathan Elrod.
A U.S. Marine, Nathan was killed in action in Iraq Oct. 21, 2006. He was an East Rowan High School classmate of the Howards’ son, Jake.
A pencil portrait Shannon drew of her brother hangs front and center on the Uncle Buck’s wall dedicated to the military.
“It’s a huge honor for me and my family,” Shannon Elrod said Monday night.
At Uncle Buck’s former location on East Innes Street, a corner was dedicated to veterans, and it included one of the “We Support Our Troops” banners now hanging on the new wall. It’s filled with the names of veterans and servicemen who dined at the old place.
Roakes asked Scott Howard if Powles Funeral Home could do something in honor of veterans at the new restaurant — the flag box and donating a framed uniform from each branch of the service.
“They had me on board as soon as Russ walked in,” Howard said. “… Our biggest thing is letting people know veterans are a group that needs to be catered to.”
Howard said Powles could have the biggest section of wall for the uniforms. The funeral home staff of Roakes, Matt Staton, Will Staton and Doug Bare went to work.
Wayne McCullough, a friend of Roakes, made the flag box, and Drew Harwood gave it the red-white-and-blue touches. Roakes said the funeral home purchased the Marine and Army uniforms off eBay.
Matt Staton used some contacts to secure Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard uniforms. Bruce Wilson of Fine Frame Gallery helped with the framing, and artisan Luther Sowers made sure all the ribbons, patches and medals were correct on the uniforms.
Once Wilson spread the word about what the funeral home was doing, someone donated the pants a couple of the uniforms were lacking.
After the Rowan County Veterans Honor Guard agreed to present the colors at the Uncle Buck’s night for veterans, the group asked whether it could donate some military flags to the wall.
Howard said he would be happy to have them.
“I went to pick them up thinking I was going to get a small box of flags,” Roakes said. “Was I ever surprised. They are very high quality, expensive, ceremonial-type flags that would be used for a major event.
“… When I took them to Uncle Buck’s, he (Howard) was totally in shock. He could not get over them.”
The flags went up on the wall with the uniforms.
When Howard told his vendors about his plans for a veterans night at the new restaurant, they offered to donate food and drink. Critters helped with the invitations.
“This is one of the most exciting new things we have to offer,” Howard said of the veterans’ wall. “It has gotten the whole community involved.”
Uncle Buck’s and the Howard family have supported veterans for a long time. On occasion, the restaurant has fed large and small groups at the Hefner VA Medical Center.
One of the restaurant’s diners Monday night was Zachary Puckett, a graduate of Alexander Central High, who now lives in Kannapolis.
Come February, Puckett will leave for a five-year hitch in the Air Force, and he hopes to make it his career.
He signed one of the new banners in the restaurant, both for him and his late brother, Sgt. Brandon Asbury, who was killed in Iraq in 2006.
Puckett is the kind of young serviceman who fits in with Scott Howard’s latest plan to honor those who serve.
If you’re headed off to boot camp, home on leave or recently discharged from the military, Uncle Buck’s wants to send you off or welcome you home with a free meal.
Spread the word, Howard said.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.