Palm Coast - It was a picture-perfect Monday. The sun was shining. Flags were poised high lining Central Park. A cool-ish breeze blew the smell of barbecue around the lake. The rich, cobalt blue sky echoed sounds of small airplanes from above. 

central park entrance

The feeling of patriotism was evident everywhere you looked. Men and women, veterans and their families, many dressed in veteran's organization uniforms or attire representing groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the American Legion. Some donned outfits the colors of red, white and blue.

Participants at Palm Coast Veterans Day Barbecue Participants at Palm Coast Veterans Day Barbecue Participants at Palm Coast Veterans Day Barbecue Participants at Palm Coast Veterans Day Barbecue

More than 450 people turned out for the City of Palm Coast's first-ever, Veterans Day barbecue. This year, the City wanted to provide an extra thank you to our local heroes.

Participants at Palm Coast Veterans Day Barbecue Participants at Palm Coast Veterans Day Barbecue

Behind the scenes, there were a few veterans working the event, too - giving back to those they may have served alongside. One of them was Jared Dawson, Recreation Specialist with the Parks and Recreation Department. Similarly, as this event was a first for the City, it was also a first for Dawson, who had never planned a veteran's event before.

Jared Dawson hands out food

"I was very nervous because I wanted everything to go well that I barely slept the night before," Dawson said. "After the event started, everything fell into place and it was running well and I was no longer nervous."

But he took it all in stride - with confidence and bravery to try his hand at something big for an important cause. He did a little of everything that day - even accepting tickets at the park entrance.

"Where I was taking the tickets, I got to meet every veteran that attended the event and told them thank you for your service and they in turn said thank you for your service," said Dawson.

Service is something he's used to, in a military sense and now in a community event planning sense in providing a meaningful display of gratitude to all who served. Prior to the big day, he contacted vendors for food estimates and tent set up, coordinated the itinerary of the ceremony that included Mayor Milissa Holland's remarks of appreciation and the Palm Coast Fire Department Honor Guard's Presentation of Colors. He also orchestrated the cake cutting ceremony in accordance with traditional military fashion.

Presentation of colors Presentation of colors

"During a cake cutting ceremony for Veterans Day, we chose to honor a special veteran, the oldest veteran, and the youngest veteran to cut the cake with a ceremonial Navy sword," Dawson said. "Military branches usually do cake cutting ceremonies for the branch birthdays, but they are also done for any ceremony such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day."

Cake cutting ceremony

Following the ceremony, he handed out food - a free barbecue meal of pulled pork, barbecue beans, coleslaw and apple pie. With each moment throughout the day, it was his goal to ensure the event ran smoothly. He had help, too, from Parks & Rec staff and other veterans who work for the City, like Hope Xiong who helped with IT functions, Don Kewley who performed audio set up and Humberto Alicea who set up chairs, tables, and flags; kept the park clean and delivered a few meals to veterans.

"I think it went really well," Dawson said. "A lot of people showed up. I heard nothing but good things from people. Everyone was fed. Everyone was happy. There was good camaraderie between everybody."

Veterans enjoying free meal Veterans enjoying free meal Veterans enjoying free meal Veterans enjoying free meal