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Honoring their service

Each time a veteran organization has a dinner, a small table is set with a single place setting, signifying those service members who are classified as Prisoners of War or Missing in Action [POW/MIA]. At the Veterans Day dinner Monday at the Pocahontas County Opera House, Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps commander Rick Wooddell and member Donnie Waybright performed the POW/MIA ceremony prior to the meal. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, communities around the country gather to honor the men and women who served in the armed forces.

At the Pocahontas County Opera House, Veterans Day was celebrated with a ceremony by the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps, and a dinner sponsored by Dominion Energy, Pocahontas County Senior Center and the Marlinton Woman’s Club.

In his comments, Honor Corps commander Rick Wooddell mentioned that 2019 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Legion. In honor of that, he shared the Veterans Day message from the American Legion headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.

“Horrible, ghastly and ghoulish,” he began. “These are some of the adjectives Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia – who was recently awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery – used to describe the battlefields that he saw in Iraq. Even so, the U.S. Army staff sergeant said it was also a place where we saw love.”

Bellavia was quoted, saying, “You see people doing things for each other that they would never, ever do in any other circumstance – it’s a sight to see.”

Bellavia rescued an infantry squad that was pinned down by machine gun fire during the second battle of Fallujah at the height of the Iraq War. 

“Bellavia’s actions during a pre-dawn mission on November 10, 2004, made the former noncommissioned officer the Iraq War’s first living recipient of the military’s highest award of valor,” Wooddell said. “Putting himself in that position is ‘what sets him apart,’ according to retired Sergeant First Class Colin Fitts. 

“Fitts credits Bellavia’s actions with saving the lives of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, that day.”

Wooddell said Bellavia’s is just one of a million stories from veterans of all wars.

“Like the story of Army Private First Class Monica Lin Brown,” he said. “PFC Brown was a combat medic assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division when she was deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan. On April 25, 2007, a roadside bomb tore through her convoy, wounding five soldiers.”

Brown – a 19-year-old – ran through the insurgent gunfire and shielded her wounded comrades with her body while she tried to save them from oncoming mortars.

“Her bravery and actions in the remote, Southeastern Afghan province would lead her to become the first woman to earn the Silver Star in Afghanistan, and just the second woman to do so since World War II,” Wooddell said. “Again, the exception and the extraordinary.”

The camaraderie doesn’t end when the soldiers come home and retire their uniforms. It continues as they join organizations like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans.

That camaraderie is also seen every day in the acts of kindness bestowed upon veterans by other veterans and their families.

“When news got out that a Vietnam War veteran had no living relatives to attend his funeral, the veteran community was there,” Wooddell said. “Friends of Wayne Wilson had put out a call for people to come to his burial service at the Silverbrook Cemetery in Niles, Michigan, and expected only a handful of people to attend.

“They underestimated the power of the American Legion,” he continued. “Three thousand people showed up to pay their respects. Another example is the five thousand people that showed up for Tech Sergeant Joseph Walker in central Texas this year when the same word went out.”

Those are just a few of the stories waiting to be told, Wooddell said. The stories are important, and it is important to learn from those stories.

“Before you leave here today, I have something to ask of you,” he said. “Find someone here and ask them to tell you their story. Every single woman and man who has raised their right hand and pledged to give their life for their country, if needed, did so for a reason. Ask them why.

“These stories and memories of ours are powerful,” he continued. “They are one of our most powerful weapons in securing a future for those who will follow us. As veterans, we are acutely aware of the sacrifices made by our service members. We are equally aware of the cost of those sacrifices. We know the value in the lessons that our military service bestowed upon us. These are things that we cannot afford to lose to time.”

In closing, Wooddell shared a somber fact and beseeched the crowd to take action to change the statistic concerning veteran suicide.

“Every day, across the United States, seventeen service members take their own lives,” he said. “The American Legion has asked all veterans to do what they call Buddy Checks. Check on your veteran friends and make sure that they are getting along. We want them to know that they are important for what they have done and what they can do in the future. They have put out an acronym that they would like us to use. It’s called SAVE.

“S stands for signs. Look for signs of sleeplessness and mood swings and see if you can help.

“Ask if they need help. Sometimes they’re just unwilling to speak up.

“Validate their experience. We’ve all been through it. Reassure them that help is available if they need it.

“And E – Evaluate for treatment and if they need help, try to get it expedited. You can visit any of the veterans services online.”

Prior to the meal, Wooddell, with the help of Honor Corps member Donnie Waybright, performed the POW/ MIA ceremony and Bells for the Fallen.

Each year, the Honor Corps remembers those who have passed since the previous Veterans Day, with the ringing of a bell. Those honored this year were:

Don Kiner, 80, United States Army, Vietnam

Guy Rexrode, 92, United States Marine Corps, World War II

James Shearer, 74, United States Army, Vietnam

Jack Morrison, 83, United States Army, Korea

Hershel Mullins, 81, United States Air Force, Vietnam

Teddy McPaters, 87, United States Army, Korea

Roger L. Sharp, 72, United States Army, Vietnam

Thomas Shafer, 79, United States Army, Vietnam

Phillip Vannoy, 53, United States Army, served from 84 to 86

Clarence Cutlip, 87, United States Marine Corps, Korea

James McElwee, Jr., 47, United States Air Force, Desert Shield, Desert Storm

Christopher Gallew, 26, United States Army, Operation Enduring Freedom

Robert Galford, 87, United States Army, Korea

Robert Furman, 90, United States Army Air Corps, World War II

Ray Kramer, 82, United States Army, Korea

Ralph Romine, 77, United States Air Force, Vietnam

Edward Mullenax, 89, United States Army, Korea

Joseph Shafer, 76, United States Navy, Vietnam

James Robert Thompson, 78, United States Army, Korea

Sherman McLaughlin, 78, United States Army, Vietnam

Daniel Hedrick, 70, United States Navy, Vietnam

McKinley Friel, 90, United States Army, World War II

Robert Swigert, 75, United States Army, Vietnam

Edgar Starks, 81, United States Army, Korea

Steve Irvin, 80, United States Navy, Vietnam

Wooddell thanked all those in attendance on behalf of American Legion Post 50 and Commander Barry Sharp, American Legion Post 117 and Commander Duke Fry, VFW Post 4595 and Commander Harvey Galford, VVA Post 1100 and President Norris Long, DAV Post 35 and Commander Sollie Workman and the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps.

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