The week of Veterans Day is always busy for the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps. Each year, the organization visits all the county schools as well as Pocahontas Center to educate students and honor county veterans.
During the visit to Marlinton Middle School, Honor Corps Commander Rick Wooddell explained the duties of the organization, as well as the importance of respecting the American Flag – specifically at parades.
“We are all members of the branches of the service with honorable discharges when we left the service, and we serve as an organization that provides final military rites to those who pass away, which means we do the 21 rifle volley, Taps and present the flag to the next of kin at the ceremony,” Wooddell said. “One of the things we like to do is come to the schools and teach about the flag and what it stands for.”
The Honor Corps also participates in several parades during festivals in Pocahontas County. Over the years, Wooddell said he has noticed that individuals along the parade route no longer show the proper respect as the American flag passes, and he wanted to make sure the students understood why the flag is to be honored.
Wooddell read a letter written from the perspective of the American flag, in which the flag offers a friendly reminder of how to properly act when the flag goes through a parade.
The letter states:
“Some people call me Old Glory. Others call me the Star Spangled Banner; but whatever they call me. I am your flag, the flag of the United States of America. Something has been bothering me, so I thought I might talk it over with you because it’s about me and you.
“Not too long ago, people would line up on both sides of the street to see a parade go by, and, naturally, I was leading that parade, proudly waving in the breeze. When your daddy saw me coming, he immediately removed his hat and placed it over his left shoulder so that his right hand was over his heart. And you were standing next to your dad.You didn’t have a hat and your little sister, not to be outdone, was standing right next to you. Both of you had your right hand over your heart.
“What has happened now? I don’t feel as proud as I used to. I’m still the same old flag. I see children around playing, shouting, they don’t know what to do. They don’t seem to know or care who I am or what I stand for. I saw an elderly gentleman this year take his hat off, but when he saw that others kept theirs on, he turned around and slowly walked away. I’m still the same old flag. A few stars have been added since those parades a long, long time ago. A lot of blood has been shed. Is it a sin to be patriotic anymore?
“Have you forgotten who I am? What I stand for and where I’ve been? Guadalcanal, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Take a good look one of these days at the Memorial Honor Rolls from all the wars, of all the names of all those who never came home. They gave their lives for this great nation to be free under God. When you salute me, you salute each and every one of them.
“Well, it won’t be long, and I’ll be coming down that street leading the parade again, and I’ll be proudly waving in the breeze. So when you see me coming, stand up straight and salute me, and I’ll salute you back by waving, and then I’ll know that you remember.”
Wooddell quizzed the students on proper flag etiquette and they answered proudly that they are to stand at attention with their hands over their hearts as the flag passes by during a parade.
Wooddell and Willard Pingley also conducted the POW/MIA ceremony, in which service men and women who are Prisoners of War or Missing in Action are honored and remembered.
Honor Corps members in attendance were: Wooddell, U.S. Air Force; Norris Long, U.S. Navy; Pingley, U.S. Army; Howard Shinaberry, U.S. Air Force; Larry Carrico, U.S. Army Special Forces; Steve Fierbaugh, West Virginia Air National Guard; Elizabeth Gay, U.S. Navy; John Sparks, U.S. Army; Homer Hunter, U.S. Marines; John Lamb, U.S. Marines; Delmar Dove, U.S. Navy; Sam Arbogast, U.S. Navy; Thomas VanReenan, U.S. Air Force; and Kenneth Sharp, U.S. Navy.
At the end of the presentation, MMS students presented Honor Corps members with letters and posters they made to honor the veterans. The students received small American flags to take home.