The theme of this year's Bradford County Veterans Appreciation Day picnic - celebrating not only those who served for our nation, but the families who support them - is one that hits home for Major General Leslie Purser of the Army Reserve.

The Towanda-area native, serving as guest speaker for Sunday's opening ceremony, had the support of her family during a tour of duty in Iraq, she told the crowd Sunday. Soon, the roles will reverse: her daughter, who also served in Iraq, and son are both scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan in September.

"Our family members are the very core of our military fiber," Purser said during her speech, which acknowledged the difficulties families have faced for generations in being separated from their soldiers.

Some things are easier today than they were during World War II or the Korean or Vietnam wars, Purser said. For instance, modern technology makes it possible for soldiers and their families to communicate online. However, families still face "sleepless nights, solitude and worrying thoughts," she said.

As for her own children, while Purser said she has some fears, "I know they're going to be in good hands," she added.

Organizers of the 24th annual picnic said at least 3,000 people - veterans, their families and area supporters of the military - attended Sunday's festivities. This year, the picnic was held for the first time on the grounds of the Wysox Volunteer Fire Company. Previous picnics had been held at Larnard-Hornbrook County Park, organizers said.

The audience, seated at picnic tables under a large tent, cheered when Tom Elliott, member of the picnic's organizing committee and master of ceremonies, asked what guests thought of the new location. The tent provided shade and protected the picnic from any threat of inclement weather. "Last year, we were rained out," Elliott said.

The facilities were made possible thanks to the fire department and Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative, he said.

Veterans received a free meal consisting of hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, desserts and other typical picnic fare, as well as a free shirt and hat.

During the opening ceremonies, a color guard from the Marine Corps League Detachment 445 of Towanda presented the colors, with members of the Patriot Guard Riders holding flags along the path to the stage. The crowd cheered during performances of the National Anthem and "God Bless America." A moment of silence was also held and "Taps" played for those members of the military who lost their lives in service to the United States.

State Rep. Tina Pickett read a resolution passed by the state House of Representatives declaring July 22, 2012 Veterans Appreciation Day statewide. Bradford County's veterans "have answered the call to defend our freedom, liberties and ideals," Pickett read.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: