BUCKHANNON – Twenty-nine.
That’s the number of veterans and members of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 3663 who have passed away in just one year – since Nov. 11, 2017, or the 99th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918 in 2017.
On Monday at 11 a.m., VFW commander Larry Brown solemnly read each one of those 29 names and their associated branches of service at a special program and luncheon that took place at the VFW.
It’s a somber tradition Brown carries out every year at 11 a.m. on Veterans Day.
The VFW commander said he had few additional words to share on the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice, which brought World War I to an end.
“I have very little to say,” Brown said. “You all know the story of Veterans Day and how it started and how it ended. I feel that every day, we should thank ourselves and one another for what we have accomplished in the service and feel lucky that we are the ones who have survived.
“Just think of the ones that never came home; they are our heroes,” he continued. “They are why we’re here today … if it wasn’t for them, who knows what we would be doing.”
Twenty-sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Jacob Reger served as the main speaker for Monday’s program at the VFW. Although not a veteran himself, the judge mentioned a handful of veterans – some he knew in passing and some he knew well – that he’s admired over the years.
“There’s been a number of veterans who have had an impact on my life, some of them I knew pretty well, some of them I just had the opportunity to meet,” Reger said.
Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Wilson, who won the congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, was the first brave man Reger highlighted.
“A couple years ago, Judge (John) Henning invited me over to Elkins because Woody Williams was speaking at the VFW over there, and at that time, Woody was 93 years old,” he recalled. “I wish I had gotten my picture taken with Woody, but I didn’t … but I got to shake his hand. He was somebody that when you shook his hand, you knew you were shaking the hand of somebody that had served well.”
Reger was more closely acquainted with his uncle Ed Jackson, who served during World War II as a gunner in the body of a B-17 bomber.
“I can’t imagine sitting in the belly of a plane being a belly gunner. My grandmother, she always had a picture of his crew in her house, and if you looked at that picture, if you looked at those guys, none of them looked like they were over 18 years old,” Reger said, tearing up, “but they flew over Germany, exposed.”
Reger said he never asked his uncle many questions about his time in the military, but one moment put his uncle’s sacrifice into perspective in a poignant way.
“I never talked to him too much or asked him too much about his service, but I remember one time, him telling me that when he got back from a mission, he went out and counted the number of bullet holes in the plane, and I can’t remember the number, but it was over 100, and he couldn’t understand why one of those bullets didn’t hit him,” the judge recounted.
Reger thanked all veterans and current military members prior to lunch.
Earlier that morning during the Veterans Day Parade, the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Marching Band, veterans who walked, veterans who rode in vehicles, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girls Scouts, the American Legion Post 7 baseball team, the Stockert Youth and Community Center baton group and other organizations proudly marched down Main Street toward the Upshur County Courthouse before ending in Jawbone Park.
Once gathered, the band played a few patriotic tunes, and Bob Post, commander of American Legion Post 7, thanked the community for braving icy temperatures to support area veterans.
“I thank you all very much, particularly all the veterans who marched in the parade, and all who couldn’t and rode, and I’d to thank our baseball team back here,” Post said, giving a nod to members of the Post 7 baseball team.
“I’d like for all of you to remember that this is the year – 100 years – since the First World War ended in 1918 … and we are celebrating that with our Veterans Day [program] of 2018,” Post said. “I would just like to thank all of your for coming out today. I thank the (Buckhannon-Upshur High School) band for their contribution because it was just so nice to be marching down the street and hearing them playing all that good patriotic music. It was great.”
The program at Jawbone Park concluded with a moment of silence and the playing of “Taps” by bugler Mike Wilson, who also sounded “Taps” Sunday at 11 a.m. in recognition of the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Armistice.
The anniversary is held sacred as the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of the year when hostilities ceased between the U.S. and the Allies and Germany.