ST. PAULS — Veterans Day is a few days away, but a St. Pauls restaurant got a jump on the day of honor by feeding cadets who someday might be defending this country.
On Wednesday, Tarpackers treated more than 60 cadets from The Citadel Military College in Charleston, S.C., to a free meal as they returned from a failed mission in Virginia. As members of the The Citadel Republican Society, a cadet-run club, they were returning to campus after spending a week assisting gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli with his electoral campaign.
“The experience was very good for the cadets, who got a feel for the rough-and-tumble world of campaign work,” said Jordan Gwalteny, vice president of external affairs for the Republican Society.
He added that many of the cadets missed out on homecoming weekend to help out with Cuccinelli’s campaign. He lost a narrow race on Tuesday to Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.
Established in 1991, Tarpackers is owned and operated by Bill and Phyllis Williams, and managed by their son, 22-year-old Will Williams.
The youngest Williams son, 18-year-old Zachary, is a freshman at The Citadel and a member of the Republican Society.
“We offered them a meal and they jumped on it,” Bill Williams said. “They work hard and we wanted to help support The Citadel.”
Two buses carrying 67 cadets, three chaperons and two drivers arrived at the restaurant at 12:30 p.m. Tarpackers employees and customers gave the visitors a round of applause as they walked inside.
Because of The Citadel’s strict visitation policies for freshman, the Williamses haven’t been able to see their son very often since he started school.
“It’s almost like Christmas that we get to see him,” Bill Williams said.
Zachary Williams was glad to be back, if only for a little while.
“It’s tough being gone for so long, but coming home feels great,” he said.
Tarpackers’ name is an amalgamation of the University of North Carolina’s Tar Heels and North Carolina State University’s Wolfpack. The restaurant’s walls are lined with memorabilia from both schools and on certain days of the week it offers collegiate-themed food specials.
To accommodate all the hungry cadets, Tarpackers had to make some adjustments to its 85-person capacity space.
“We’re basically shutting down the restaurant to feed these kids,” Bill Williams said.
Still, the owner felt it was worth sacrificing potential business to feed his son and the other cadets.
“At The Citadel, they’re only allowed a certain amount of time to eat — it’s all very structured,” he said. “We wanted this to be a break before they have to go back.”
The cadets, meanwhile, were grateful for the opportunity to eat off-campus. The food got better reviews than would an MRE.
“We greatly appreciate the family doing this for us; it’s probably the best meal we’ll have all week,” Gwalteny said. “This was a big break for all of us.”
At about 1:15 p.m., the cadets began boarding their buses back to Charleston while Zachary Williams bid farewell to his family.
“It was sad to see him go and we’re going to miss him very, very much,” Bill Williams said. “But it was encouraging to see that he’s doing all right.”