- Associated Press - Sunday, June 29, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Hundreds of older veterans from across the country are spending the next few days in Fayetteville competing in a variety of sports events.

This is the 28th year for the National Veterans Golden Age Games and the first time Arkansas has hosted them, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said in a story (http://bit.ly/1ofQjtc ) published Sunday. The games last through Wednesday and more than 700 veterans are expected to compete.

“It’s not just one week out of their life. It’s an entire rehabilitative and therapeutic program that they work on all year,” said local organizing committee chairman Carol Kick.

To participate, veterans must be 55 or older and receive care at a Veterans Affairs medical facility.

Army veteran Henry Lee Preston, 64, traveled from Alabama to take part in several competitions, including swimming and cycling. He noted the “opportunity to meet old friends.”

Preston, who served in Vietnam, said he feels great despite injuries to his eyes while in the military. But he also praised the therapeutic aspect of preparing for the games, which is something the VA emphasizes as a big part of the competitions.

Kick said Fayetteville was selected because another city backed out of hosting the games, which are taking part on the University of Arkansas campus. The VA and the Veterans Canteen Service co-sponsor the games, while local fundraising topped $220,000 to cover expenses, said Kick, chief of voluntary service for the Veterans Heath Care System of the Ozarks.

Competitions are divided by age and sex. The games also include divisions for veterans with disabilities, including wheelchair games.

Bowling, shuffleboard and air rifle had the most participants sign up, Kick said.

Barry Mowen, 74, said he’s participated in the games each year since turning 55. He has used a wheelchair to get around since sustaining serious shrapnel injuries to his legs and back as a gunner on a helicopter shot down in Vietnam in 1968. Two people survived out of the crew of three.

Mowen, who traveled to the games from Ohio, recalled an incident in 2010 when someone came up to him at a hotel when he was participating in that year’s games in Des Moines, Iowa.

“He’s crying, and he hugs me,” Mowen said. Mowen didn’t recognize the man until he said, “You don’t remember your pilot?”

“I said, ‘Wow.’ All these years, and we had both thought each other was dead,” Mowen said.

___

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com