According to the National Library of Medicine, one in five veterans lives alone, and 57% of veterans reported feeling lonely at least some of the time. Holidays like Thanksgiving can be difficult for former members of the armed forces. William Nobrega is one of 3,255 veterans in Athens County, and he wants to support as many fellow veterans as possible.
To help, Nobrega will host nearly 100 veterans this year at the Smiling Skull, 108 W. Union St., in partnership with Nick and Adrienne Whitney – the bar's owners – for a veterans' Thanksgiving feast.
"We just want to make sure that veterans have a place to go," Nobrerga said. "They'll have a warm welcome and we'll have a lot of fun."
Nobrega, pursuing a degree in history at Ohio University, grew up in Columbus and graduated from OU 30 years ago with his undergraduate degree in economics. He went on to spend 14 years in the Army Special Forces and was wounded by an improvised explosive device during an 18-month tour of Kurdistan, a geo-cultural area encompassing eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iran and smaller parts of northern Syria and Armenia.
The VA, or Veterans Affairs, is an agency of the federal government that works to provide health care, cemetery services and other benefits to veterans. Nobrega said he has a 50% disability rating with the VA, but it does not slow him down walking to and from campus every day.
"I've had a total of 14 fractures," he said. "But I'm fine. I'm in good shape compared to some people I know, and I'm enjoying life and the fact that I met these wonderful people and that we can do something for veterans is really good."
Nobrega spoke highly of the Whitneys and their children. He said he became good friends with the couple after moving back to Athens. He added that he was initially intimidated by the Smiling Skull and its reputation for being a bit of a biker bar but quickly found it was full of kind people, including many fellow veterans.
"There are no Hells Angels here," Nobrega said, laughing. "Just old guys with stories to tell. I love them."
Nobrega partnered with the couple to put on this Thanksgiving meal, which will include an impressive amount of food.
In addition to other assistance, the VA offers monthly disability compensation to veterans who were harmed during service. Nobrega said he uses this money to help pay for this veterans' Thanksgiving meal.
"We bought like $800 worth of food," he said. "That came from my VA pension, but it's good karma, right?"
Nobrega said so far, they have two turkeys, two hams, two ducklings, eight pies, wine for those 21 and older and many other festive foods on the menu. Many other attendees will bring additional potluck items to help feed the anticipated 95 guests.
Nobrega is cooking all this food with help, although he will take on a lot of the cooking personally. He said he loves to cook and spent last summer in Italy, where he will return this winter to take cooking classes.
He said the Whitneys will help him with the preparations and will host the event at the bar, adding this is just one way the couple shows their support.
"They're always welcoming to veterans," he said. "I've never seen them turn one away, and I've seen them actually, you know, when a veteran didn't have enough money for something they were always there and it just made an impression on me. I was like, 'Wow, I didn't know that existed in today's world,' but it does."
Nobrega said the doors will open at noon on Thanksgiving Day, and he expects a really lovely event, which he encourages other veterans to attend.
"It's our thanks to veterans," he said. "They're all welcome, arms wide open."