Milford’s three-day long Riverwalk “Freedom” Festival, which runs Thursday through Saturday, will bring the community together, as well as pay tribute to veterans and current military service members.

Milford’s three-day long Riverwalk “Freedom” Festival will bring the community together, as well as pay tribute to veterans and current military service members.

After its first year, the festival was reorganized to pay tribute to those lost in 9/11, highlighting the nation’s first responders, fire fighters, police officers and military, said event chairwoman Angela Dorey.

The festival not only highlights national service members, but also offers an opportunity for the community to interact with active duty members, veterans and their families, through the “Operation Giveback” event from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday night, Dorey said.

“It’s about getting them all together and saying thank you,” Dorey said.

This is the second year for “Operation Giveback,” which was expanded to include active duty members as well as veterans. The fireworks display has also been moved to Friday night, inviting the community to join in on a patriotic day of celebration.

“As busy as they are, it’s important for [current military and veterans] to feel supported by everyone around them and to see that Milford and surrounding towns appreciate everything they do,” Dorey said. “It’s just as important to realize how much they do for us, and we want them to be able to enjoy it.”

The purpose of “Operation Giveback” is to not only connect military personnel with available resources, but also for the community to donate goods or money to those organizations that assist military personnel throughout the year.

Military personnel are also entitled to a free meal, courtesy of Burgers-N-Beans, and family members will receive 10 percent off at selected festival food vendors.

“I wanted to make sure it was something everybody could do,” Dorey said. “In today’s economy, it may be harder to get out to some of these larger events. We really wanted to keep it where you can feed the whole family and not break the bank.”

Operation Give Back Co-Chair and Burgers-N-Beans owner Bruce Johnston, a veteran who spent 22 years with the Army and Army National Guard, said it’s just the right thing to do.

“It’s a very patriotic day,” Johnston said. “We’re hoping to connect the vets and current military with the nonprofits that can help them, which is unique for most festivals.”

Johnston said he also looks forward to seeing some of the older veterans, like the WWII pilot he met last year.

“They have so many stories,” he said. “This gives them an opportunity for fellowship with fellow members of the service and different branches of the services.”

But beyond entertainment, Friday night festivities are all about gratitude, he explained.

“We wanted to make Operation Give Back exactly that: an opportunity to give back to those who served our country,” Johnston said.