Heroes abound in Hopkins County. From veterans to first responders, there's a wealth of people who have sacrificed for the benefit of others. Banners, recognition lunches and a variety of events often shine a light on these individuals -- but when heroes honor heroes, it has a special feel to the occasion.

For the last three years before Veterans Day, Hopkins County first responders have volunteered their time to hang out with vets at the Eddie Ballard Western Kentucky Veterans Center.

Madisonville Police Officer Jeff Miller started this service project as a way for local civil servants to connect with and honor people who served the country.

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"What better way than to come out here and spend time with the veterans just before Veterans Day," he said. "We go down the hall, play four or five games of bingo - and they get pretty competitive in the bingo games."

For the winners of the games, the facility provides door prizes. At the end of the event, Miller and 11 volunteers handed out challenge coins to each veteran.

A challenge coin is often given as a mark of camaraderie. On Thursday, it served as a mark of gratitude for the veterans' service. The fire department helped purchase the challenge coins through its "Axe of Kindness" fund.

"It's an opportunity for us to try and take care of those guys. And this close to Veterans Day, it's an opportunity to show them how much we appreciate everything that they've done for us," said firefighter Alex Smith.

As a service project, Miller said this was a way for the first responders to give back.

"This is our way of giving back to the community, to the veterans who have sacrificed to serve their country and their small communities," he said. "They're in a facility where maybe they might not get very many visitors, especially law enforcement. They see other family members coming in, but when they see that badge and gun, and it kind of brings them back home."

One of Miller's favorite parts of the project is connecting with the veterans.

"Everybody likes to hear old war stories, and these veterans who've been there and were in wars, those guys have the stories," he said. "Us dealing with drug dealers and stuff that don't compare to people shooting at you and trying to kill you just because you're wearing an American flag."

During bingo, School Resource Officer Mark Conrad called the games. Due to the competitive nature of the game, most participants and volunteers concluded that Conrad didn't shuffle the bingo deck well enough. Either that or their luck wasn't what they wanted it to be.

Before calling the games, Conrad reconnected former neighbor and veteran Tim Nichols who lived down the street from him in Anton.

"It was pretty neat. I realized exactly who the man was, and knowing the family even means that much more," he said. "For me, it was a good thing that we can give just a little bit to enhance their day because they gave so much for our country."

The camaraderie that Conrad and the other first responders built with the veterans made their day.

"We all just started cutting up and acted like we've known each other for years," he said. "It was kind of humbling."

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