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VETERANS DAY: Ceremonies salute sacrifice and service

On Veterans Day, some who served gathered with friends and family in the shadow of granite monuments etched with names of the fallen.

Others sought out their peers to reminisce about difficult—even unspeakable—events of long ago. One talked to a group of third-graders about the meaning of the day.

Here’s a look at some of Monday’s observances around the Fredericksburg area:

COMMUNITY OF VETS

The Falls Run retirement community has been holding a Veterans Day program for six years now.

There’s never any doubt that lots of veterans will show up. The retirement community in southern Stafford County has 358 names on its Wall of Honor, listing residents who have served in various branches of the military.

Bob Brown, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, says the veterans—including 67 who have passed away—have, collectively, more than 4,000 years in various branches of the military.

Even a few allies are on the wall.

“We have a couple from the British military, one from the Korean Air Force,” said Brown, who retired in 1983 after 29 years with the Air Force. He served two tours in Korea and traveled the world, thanks to Uncle Sam.

Fifty-five and over communities would be expected to have lots of veterans, but Brown, 77, who heads up the community’s Wall of Honor committee, isn’t sure why there are so many at Falls Run. It may have to do with why he and his wife moved from California to Stafford 10 years ago—proximity of military bases, commissaries and medical facilities.

“People want to take advantage of those,” he said, “and people who retire from the military want to be near the military.”

Rear Adm. Thomas Jones spoke to the mostly silver-haired men and women, who also heard a history of the tune, “God Bless America,” made famous by Kate Smith. When it was over, the group ate, and talked, into the afternoon.

GRIEF AND GRAFFITI

About 200 veterans, friends and family gathered at Fredericksburg’s Our Fallen Heroes memorial under a crisp, blue autumn sky.

Among those sitting in the folding chairs was the family of Master Sgt. George A. Bannar Jr., who was killed in August in Afghanistan. Bannar was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and had lived in Orange County.

His name is among those added in recent years to the granite monument at the intersection of George, Barton and Liberty streets.

Angelo Laviano, chairman of the Fredericksburg Area Veterans Council, recognized the family, asking them to stand.

Many of those in the crowd could see one unwelcome addition to the memorial. It was vandalized Saturday night or early Sunday morning. Someone spray-painted a word—it appears to be “riot”—on an inside column, one without any names of war dead. A neighbor reported the vandalism; someone with the veterans council and city workers attempted to clean off the paint, but it was still legible. City police are investigating.

Don Kubik, 78, who served in the Marines and lives in King George County, sat on the back row. He was among those who worked for over a decade to get the memorial built.

“I still miss the Marine Corps,” he said. “I think it’s great that people are out here in force,” though he wished that businesses would close for the day.

The keynote speaker was Douglas J. Robb, an Air Force general, doctor and director of the Defense Health Agency. Robb spoke about advances in battlefield medicine and evacuation. He noted that, in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are 200 amputees back on active duty, and 40 returned to combat.

As in past years, the WarFighters motorcycle club was on hand, along with the Enduring Freedom Honor Team—student musicians who play patriotic and military tunes. A flight of three planes with the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1099 flew over the ceremony as U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman spoke.

The 1st District Republican urged those there to ensure that veterans get what was promised by the government, saying that 700,000 veterans’ claims are pending with the Veterans Administration.

“Our nation has a moral obligation to stand by its veterans,” Wittman said. “We’re falling short of where that standard needs to be.”

PASSING IT ON

At Riverview Elementary School, several dozen third-graders sat on the gym floor listening to Dieter Stenger, dressed in a World War II Marine uniform and cap.

Acting as a drill sergeant, he launched into his program on the meaning of Veterans Day, inviting the 8-year-olds to shout out the “sir sandwich,” better known to recruits as “Sir, Yes Sir!”

Stenger, who served in the Marines, and wife Allison were at Riverview as part of their Educational Enrichment for Young Patriots. The couple holds events at Spotsylvania schools on national military holidays and historical events, based on the Standards of Learning curriculum.

“What makes this so interesting is the historical attire, and things we bring along to make it come alive,” Stenger said. The students got to talk to some veterans, listened to a performance by the Army “Old Guard” Fife and Drum Corps, and got a close-up look at World War II uniforms and equipment.

What did Danielle Koerper, 8, a student in Dara Lee’s class, learn from the experience?

“To respect, and to say thanks to people in the [military].”

RETIRING WORN U.S. FLAGS

About 250 tattered, faded or torn American flags were respectfully burned during a flag retirement ceremony on Saturday at Spotsylvania County’s Izaak Walton League Park.

“We liken it very much to a funeral,” said Randy Wilson, a member of the Izaak Walton League and commissioner of the Boy Scouts’ Mattaponi District.

The event on Veterans Day weekend was the first of its kind to be jointly organized by the Izaak Walton League’s Fredericksburg–Rappahannock Chapter, the Boy Scouts, the city of Fredericksburg and a Pennsylvania-based group called “Retire Your Old Glory,” Wilson said.

He said he hopes to have more such ceremonies in the future, maybe two or three times a year.

“It’s a very moving ceremony, and certainly we would like to try to get as many people out to see this kind of thing in the future,” he said.

Staff reporter Jeff Branscome contributed to this story.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

rdennen@freelancestar.com

 

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