Learn about Military Appreciation Night and how it began with the goal of thanking and honoring our nation's heroes.
Navy Junior ROTC cadets from Booker T. Washington High School present the colors during a Military Appreciation Night event at Golden Corral in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

A dynamic duo—that’s what some may consider DAV and Golden Corral. As the two come together for one special night each year to honor and thank our nation’s heroes, a tremendous amount of support is raised. Like any heroic tale, the story has an intriguing origin.

It began in 1999, when multi-restaurant franchisee Hu Odom had the idea to formally recognize those who have served by hosting them at his location in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He wanted to acknowledge their great sacrifice for freedom with complimentary thank-you meals on or around Veterans Day.

But Odom wanted to do even more and was determined to raise money to help veterans and their families living in his community.

By 2001, Golden Corral Corp. had adopted Odom’s demonstration of appreciation and partnered with DAV to raise awareness and funds on Military Appreciation Night. They launched the program nationwide. Since then, Golden Corral has donated more than 6 million complimentary meals to veterans and helped raise more than $18 million to support DAV in assisting veterans and their families.

To commemorate this long-standing partnership, National Commander Joe Parsetich visited the Virginia Beach location where it all began.

4th Junior Vice Commander Cynthia Madison, Parsetich and DAV Department of Virginia Commander Francis Mitchell.

“It’s remarkable. Golden Corral has been doing this Military Appreciation Night for over 20 years. I can’t think of a better partnership for DAV to be associated with,” said Parsetich. “The overwhelming financial support for our service members and veterans is humbling to see.”

On hand to receive the commander were Odom and Golden Corral CEO Lance Trenary.

“Thank you so much for everything DAV stands for. We have a special appreciation for Hu Odom, one of our franchisees, that had this great idea of Military Appreciation Night,” said Trenary. “It’s something that we look forward to every year. It’s something that we embrace and are privileged to be a part of—serving those who have served us so honorably.”

“DAV thanks you, your franchisees, the general managers and the restaurant teams, and we wish you the best as you celebrate your golden 50th anniversary later this year,” said Parsetich. “By inviting DAV members to these events throughout the country, we are able to highlight how our organization provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families to a nationwide audience. We simply could not have done that without Golden Corral’s support.”

The evening was filled with patriotic fanfare as the Navy Junior ROTC from Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia, conducted the presentation of the colors and the school’s orchestra played the national anthem. A moment of silence then followed to remember the fallen.

Several DAV Department of Virginia service officers were involved in making the night an occasion to remember. Department Senior Vice Commander Will King expressed the sense of excitement surrounding the entire affair.

“The lines were out the door. While the ensemble played three beautiful pieces, everyone was recording it with their phones and then clapping and cheering,” said King.

As the ceremony came to a close and the air grew chilly, everyone went inside, where the atmosphere felt warm and inviting.

“There were so many veterans and their families enjoying the evening. It reminded me of mess hall days in the service with the buzz of everyone chatting,” said King. “I’m thankful to our DAV members who helped all of this come together so that we can raise money to assist our fellow veterans.”

“We can’t thank Golden Corral and their generous patrons enough for helping us keep our promise to America’s veterans,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “Year after year, their dedication to funding DAV’s services to our wounded, ill and injured veterans and their families has meant the world.”