At 11 a.m. on November 11, bells across the country tolled 21 times to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. In the Pocahontas County Opera House, a small brass bell joined in the ringing with the assistance of Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps Commander Rick Wooddell, as the annual Veterans Day dinner began.
“Veterans Day is set aside to remember every man and woman who has taken up arms to defend our country,” he said. “We honor every soldier, sailor, marine, airman and coast guardsman who gave some of the best years of their lives to the service of the United States and stood ready to give life itself on behalf of our nation. More than twenty-five million veterans walk among us and on this day, our nation pauses to remember them all.”
As part of the ceremony, Wooddell gave a speech provided by the national VFW Commander and DAV Commander.
After a brief history of the founding of Armistice Day, which was renamed Veterans Day in 1954, Wooddell said the day is not only for those who served in the past, but for those who are currently serving in the Armed Forces.
“As we honor our veterans and remember their great deeds, let us also salute those who are currently fighting for our freedom,” he said. “The war on terrorism has helped us realize how truly unique the American way of life is. The freedoms we enjoy are extremely special and that is why we must defend them. The defense of freedom is not just for those in the military. Each of us share that duty and that responsibility. We don’t have to join the Army or the Navy or any other organization of defense to actively defend our way of life.
Protecting our freedom is as simple as speaking up and ensuring everyone feels the benefits of freedom, through volunteering or teaching one another what it means to be an American, Wooddell said.
“As a nation, we come together once a year to honor veterans, but it is important to show that honor every day for those who stood up for America when they were needed most.
“Let us continue to walk toward tomorrow still honoring them by living in the freedoms they have protected,” he said. “We’ve mourned our brothers and sisters in arms the day they left us, and we mourn them now. We come together today to continue to honor those who are still among us.
As well as honoring those who returned, we must also remember those who have yet to come home, Wooddell said. There are more than 82,000 military personnel from every conflict since World War II who are classified as Mission In Action.
There is an active campaign to find and return these individuals to American soil. As part of that campaign, Wooddell spoke about the recent discovery of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, after 72 years.
“On July 30, 1945, the ship sunk in only twelve minutes,” Wooddell said. “Of the nearly twelve hundred crew members on board, approximately four hundred managed to survive the sinking. These remaining soldiers and marines faced exposure, dehydration, salt water poisoning, delirium and shark attacks while floating in the Philippine Sea with very few life boats, preservers, food or water.”
The survivors were found four days later when a flight crew on a routine patrol spotted them in the sea. Only 316 survived to be rescued.
While it is impossible to raise the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the bodies of the fallen sailors and marines, at least now the families have closure and know where their final resting place is.
“I think it is important to never forget the profession of arms is a dangerous job,” Wooddell said. “Those of us here today understand that to recognize their service and sacrifice, we must ensure that these individuals are never forgotten and that their actions stay alive in our memories and in our hearts. This is important for honoring the heroes of today and the veterans of years gone by who paved the way for them.”
In closing, Wooddell quoted 35th U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who was also a Navy veteran.
“[He] once said, ‘as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them,’” Wooddell said. “There is no more relevant time to embrace this quote than on Veterans Day.”
In the Bells for the Fallen ceremony, Wooddell read the names of the veterans who have passed away since Veterans Day 2017.
As Wooddell read the names, Willard Pingley rang the bell. Two of those honored were also members of the Honor Corps, for whom Pingley rang the bell twice, in recognition of their service in the military and their service in the Honor Corps.
Those remembered were:
Alvin Hise, 56, US Army, Desert Shield and Desert Storm
Kessler Pritt, 88, US Marine Corps, Korea
Johnny Pritt, 73, US Navy, Vietnam
Ronald Fransisco, 79, US Army, Korea
Forest McLaughlin, 76, US Army, Vietnam
William “Bill” Ryder, 80, US Army, Korea
Buford Shell, 82, US Army, Korea
Lee Stine, 88, US Navy, World War II and Korea
Arvil Cordle, 60, US Navy, The Cold War
Kennith Mullens, 89, US Navy, World War II and Korea
David Doss, 79, US Navy, Korea
Emery Wyatt, 79, US Army, Vietnam
Alfred Dean, 83, US Army, Korea
Gregory Warf, 55, US Army, Desert Shield and Desert Storm
Timothy Shanahan, 81, US Navy, Korea and Vietnam
Charles Dulaney Dean, 75, US Air Force, Vietnam
Thomas Kennedy, 78, US Army, Vietnam
Gary Meanes, 79, US Army, Vietnam
Larry Shaw, 77, US Army, Vietnam
James Baxter, 66, US Army, Vietnam
William Green, 74, US Army, Vietnam
Fred Fromhart, 88, no details given
Denzil Totten, 95, US Army Air Corps, World War II
Walter Ralston, 89, US Navy, World War II
Richard Nichols, 83, US Army, Korea
Bernard Freeland, 100, US Army Air Corps, World War II
Harry “Tuck” Thomas, 95, US Army, World War II
Zane Stanley Simmons, 87, US Air Force, Korea
William Dower, 92, US Army, World War II
John McCollum, 66, US Navy, Vietnam
Clyde White, 75, US Navy, Vietnam
The annual Veterans Day Dinner was sponsored by Dominion Power, Pocahontas County Senior Citizens, Inc., Marlinton Woman’s Club, Pocahontas IGA and the Greenbrier Grille.
Wooddell read a note stating that the Pocahontas IGA donated four cakes for the event in memory of the late Denzil Totten, veteran and father of current store owners Jim and John Totten.