Local restaurateur honors hundreds of military veterans

As a Vietnam combat veteran, Joe Hickey knows how important it is to honor the men and women who have put their lives on the line for their country.

That’s why Hickey, one of the owners of Bobby Van’s Steakhouse chain, invited 150 Marine Corps veterans to lunch at one of its two D.C. restaurants on Tuesday. And he invited 200 military personnel from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital, most of them disabled and hospitalized, to dinner on Veterans Day at the other restaurant location.

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Hickey, who spent four years in Vietnam in both the Army and the Marines, picked up the tab for both events for the second year in a row in honor of Veterans Day and the Marines’ 234th anniversary on Tuesday.

And the day before Memorial Day, he hosted more than 1,400 veterans and their families at both restaurants, which left the establishments so depleted he couldn’t open for business the following day.

“It’s not about what we spent or how hard we worked,” Hickey told the Department of Veterans Affairs magazine after feeding busloads of veterans and their dependents from Walter Reed and Bethesda, as well as the VA Medical Center, Ford Meade, Quantico Marine Corps Base, Fort Belvoir and Fort McNair in May. “We’re going to be doing this for the next 50 years — Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day,” he said. “We want to honor our veterans.”

Tuesday’s luncheon guests included some 50 active-duty Marines based in the Washington area and 100 more who are retired or in the Marine Reserves. They included Gregory Jones, whose father, former Marine Corps Commandant General Jim Jones, is President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, and Col. Harvey “Barney” Barnam, a former deputy assistant secretary of the Navy who won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam.

Even the bartender at Tuesday’s lunch, Kevin Abley, is a former Marine, having served in Okinawa.

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The 35-year-old Jones, a captain in the Marine Reserves who now advises veteran-owned small businesses seeking defense contracts, was involved in some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq during a major offensive against al Qaeda and insurgents in Fallujah in November 2004.

“We finally secured Fallujah on Nov. 19, 2004, and I called my wife on the 15th, and I don’t know if she grasped how desperate a situation we were in,” he said.

Hickey said he worked closely with the Pentagon, the Veterans Administration and other veterans organizations to plan the Veterans Day and Memorial Day events, which he hopes will serve as a template for similar community-based programs to honor veterans across the country.