On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the county honored area veterans and current service members in the annual Veterans Day dinner at the Pocahontas County Opera House.
Each year, the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps hosts the event where they recognize area veterans for their service and remember those who passed away during the past year.
Honor Corps Commander Rick Wooddell and Honor Corps member Donnie Waybright opened the event with the POW/MIA ceremony. Wooddell explained that an empty table set for one is always present at a gathering. It is in remembrance of those who cannot join in the meal – the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action service members.
The ceremony was followed by Bells for the Fallen. Wooddell read a list of veterans who passed away between November 2019 and November 2021. Waybright tolled the bell – once for each veteran and twice for those who had been members of the Honor Corps.
Wooddell included the names of veterans lost between 2019 and 2020 because the Veteran’s Day event scheduled for last year was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Those lost between 2019 and 2020 were:
Melvin Love, 62, USA, Cold War
Jack Miller, 93, USN/USCG, WWII
William Gilmore, 81, USA, Cold War
Charles Rhodes, 82, USA, Vietnam
Russell Cassell, 91, USAF, Korea
James Johnson, 89, USN, Vietnam
George Hipes, 74, USA, Vietnam
Kale Sage, 79, USA, Vietnam
Thomas Cook, 75, USA, Vietnam
William Clark, 74, USAF, Vietnam
Homer Hager, 84, USMC, Korea
Thomas Pritt, 78, USA, Vietnam
Jim Cutlip, 86, USA, Korea
Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps Member:
Jerry Taylor, 83, USAF, Korea
Those lost between 2020 and 2021 were:
Don Hansford, 83, USA, Cold War
Willie Mullenax, 91, USA, Korea
Walter Kelley, 90, USA, Korea
Dabney Kisner, 100, USAAC, WWII
Martin Barkley, 81, USN, Korea
Quincy McMillion, 86, USA, Korea/Vietnam
George Harris, 91, USAF, Korea/Vietnam
Thomas Biggs, 87, USA, Korea/Vietnam
Sterle Gillespie, 79, USAF, Vietnam
Herman Butcher, 98, USAAC, WWII
John Davis, 80, USA, Vietnam
Billy Howard, 76, USA, Vietnam
Kenneth Hammons, 72, USA, Vietnam
Raymond Garretson, 76, USA, Vietnam
Max Leroy Gum, 88, USA, Cold War
Woodrow Thompson, 79, USN, Vietnam
George Hefner, 95, USCG, WWII
Lance McCutcheon, 101, USAAC, WWII
Thomas Vandevander, 82, USA, Cold War
Lewis Bullock, 85, USA, Cold War
Claude Simmons, 82, USMC, Vietnam
Jim Burton, 66, USA, Vietnam
Claude Phillips, Sr., 95, USN, WWII
Allen Shiflett, 81, USA, Vietnam
Ray Grogg, 79, USA, Korea
Eugene Wilfong, 87, USA, Korea
Richard Hill, 73, USA, Vietnam
Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps Members:
Ron Cole, 76, USMC, Vietnam
Willard Pingley, 75, USA, Vietnam
Dick Hiner, 94, USA, WWII, Korea and a founding member of the Honor Corps
Wooddell then shared the Veterans Day message titled “A Century of Honor – ‘We Will Never Forget Your Sacrifice’” which was provided by the American Legion in honor of the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“A soldier takes 21 steps to the south, waits 21 seconds, then makes a crisp turn to the east and holds for 21 seconds,” Wooddell said. “The sentinel then turns north and holds for 21 seconds before taking 21 steps back to his starting point where he turns to the west and repeats the procedure.
“The place? Arlington National Cemetery. The location? Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”
Sentinels have performed this procedure for the past 100 years, a constant vigil and protection for the soldiers who gave their lives for their country, but to this day have not been identified.
It began in 1921 with the first unknown soldier to be interred in Arlington National Cemetery. He was returned to American soil on the USS Olympia from the port of Le Havre, France. The journey began on October 25, 1921. The ship was escorted out of the harbor by a French warship, six French destroyers and the USS Reuben James.
Four days into the journey, the ship encountered hurricane like conditions, but the four Marines who guarded the unknown soldier held steadfast and made sure the coffin remained on the ship despite 29-foot swells and 80 mile per hour winds.
The USS Olympia safely arrived at the Washington Navy Yard on November 9, 1921.
“The coffin was unloaded to the strains of ‘Onward Christian Soldier’ and taken to its caisson led with six black horses,” Wooddell said. “The Marines had lived up to their motto of ‘Semper Fidelis’ – always faithful. The mission responsibility was then handed over to the Army who then escorted the coffin to the Capitol Rotunda where it laid in state until November 11.”
Three years after the first Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, a dedication took place at Arlington National Cemetery to dedicate the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“A caisson carrying the World War I soldier wound its way from the Capitol Rotunda to Arlington National Cemetery,” Wooddell said. “On this occasion – President Warren Harding honored the unknown soldier by placing the Medal of Honor on the casket. At noon, the nation observed two minutes of silence and then the casket of this World War I veteran was lowered into the tomb.”
In 1958, the Army selected one casket from four Korean War unknown soldiers who had been buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii and this veteran was interred on Memorial Day 1958.
The Korean War delayed the interment of the World War II unknown soldiers. The Army chose two soldiers, one from each of the theaters – Europe and Pacific. One was given a burial at sea and the other was also interred on Memorial Day 1958.
A Vietnam War soldier – the only set of remains not to be identified – was interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day 1984. Due to advancements in DNA technology, this soldier was identified as First Lieutenant Mike Blassie of the United States Air Force in 1998. The crypt for an unknown Vietnam War soldier has remained empty ever since.
Sentinels have carried on the previously mentioned military procedure every hour on the hour from October through March and every half hour from April through September.
“The Old Guard was formed in 1926 and to this day, the Old Guard stands watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – in all kinds of weather – and has never been off watch since 1948,” Wooddell said in closing. “The Sentinels stand forever to guard these hollowed grounds of the Tomb on which these words are encrypted: ‘Here rests in Honored Glory – An American Soldier known but to God.’ May we forever honor them and keep them in our hearts.”
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American Legion Post 50, American Legion Post 117, VFW Post 4595, VVA Post 1100 and DAV Post 35 helped with the Veterans Dinner. The meal was prepared by Greenbrier Grille, provided by the Northern Pocahontas County Community Assistance Inc. Cakes were provided by Pocahontas IGA and the meal was served by the Marlinton Woman’s Club.