BUCKHANNON – Veterans Day 2017 wasn’t just another day to thank those who have served in the United States Armed Forces in Upshur County.
Of course, the regular thank-yous for the bravery of veterans and currently serving military members were delivered throughout the day Saturday. Gratitude materialized in the form of American flags waving and people lining the streets to honor veterans marching in the annual Veterans Day Parade down Main Street. It was present in free breakfasts, lunches and dinners held at various organizations and churches, as well as in Pledges of Allegiance, patriotic songs and prayers that echoed throughout the town and county.
But in some places, local officials took the time Veterans Day offered to issue more specific messages during the annual celebration.
At the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month at VFW Post 3663, post commander Larry Brown had something to say to veterans and their guests who attended the organization’s yearly ceremony and luncheon. After reciting a list of more than 60 names of veterans and VFW members who had passed away during 2017, Brown told expressed worries for the future of the organization and others like it and urged younger veterans to join.
“We’re losing members fast every year,” Brown said. “Every organization needs new members. The one that’s here, we’re getting old. We need members for the Honor Guard. There’s about 65-70 military funerals that we do a year on the Honor Guard.” Saturday’s ceremony at the VFW took place at 11:11 a.m. to commemorate the Armistice — which marked the end of all major military hostilities of World War I — going into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
Brown said he doesn’t know why younger veterans haven’t joined the VFW and other similar organizations, but said the need for them was urgent.
“I have talked, I have begged, I have cried — well, I haven’t cried yet — but we need help,” Brown said. “I don’t know why they haven’t joined.”
Sixty-four former members of the VFW died in 2017, and of the 193 remaining one, Brown said over 190 were over the age of 65.
The organization’s oldest member, 94-year-old James Kittle, veteran of the Army Aircorps, said he’s been a member of the organization since 1946. He’s also a member of the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans organizations.
“I think the young fellows that’s coming out of the Army or the Marines should join,” Kittle said at the VFW’s luncheon. “We have an Honor Guard that I helped start — there were nine of us. I’ve served 71 years in the Honor Guard, and they retired me, but if they need me, they call me, and I go.”
Brown and Kittle weren’t the only ones who delivered concrete messages on Veterans Day. Following the parade downtown, Buckhannon mayor David McCauley promised a variety of community improvements for area veterans, while also questioning the cultural appropriation of Veterans Day for for-profit ventures, such as Veterans Day sales and the making of war-themed video games.
“Today, I’d like to continue to advance the notion that the alleyways around the VFW and American Legion facilities be designated as Veterans Way in honor and celebration of our B-U veterans, all who gave some, and some who gave all,” McCauley said, at the Frank B. Bartlett Post American Legion Post 7’s Veterans Day ceremony in Jawbone Park. “I’d love to see fully paved alleys, improved and safer access to VFW and American Legion facilities with improved and better illuminated sidewalks, with American flags adorning the entire block from Main Street to Friendly Way.”
Patriotic murals and public art should adorn the exterior of those organizations’ buildings, the mayor added.
“That area in my opinion is sacred ground, and all who enter that area should come to know it as such,” McCauley said, before turning to the topic of what he called the “trivialization” of Veterans Day.
Veterans Day sales mask the true meaning of the day, the mayor said.
“It seems everyone and their brother has a Veterans Day sale going on,” McCauley observed. “I’m not sure what selling cars, furniture and gadgets has to do with the true meaning of celebrating, honoring and remembering those who’ve served. One might be inclined to boycott such mindless folks who would exploit the reason for the day for the almighty dollar until they get it right.”
On the other hand, the mayor added, stores and companies who offer discounts for veterans on Nov. 11 should be “recognized and thanked.”
In addition, the prevalence of popular culture video games that associate war with fun demonstrate the need for history lessons, McCauley said.
“There are video games that glorify war — ‘Call to Duty, WWII version’ and other ridiculous, electronic toys that equate war with fun,” the mayor said. “Imagine that — war is somehow fun; now, that’s funny! Perhaps we need more history lessons in our schools that will correct such inane notions.”
The crowd sang “God Bless, America” at the conclusion of the ceremony, and Bob Post, American Legion Americanism chairman, urged attendees to “lift up your hearts, not your cellphones,” as Pope Francis did during mass in Vatican City Wednesday. Post also reminded residents’ of a famous quote by former president Ronald Reagan, who talked about the vulnerability of freedom.
“‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,’ ” Post quoted Reagan. “ ‘We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.’
“May God bless America and may God bless veterans of all wars,” Post concluded.
Post also said anyone who was able and willing to sponsor an American flag that will be placed in Heavner Cemetery in honor of a veteran should contact the American Legion at 304-460-7377.