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NAJ WIKOFF: Remembering the fallen and those who have served

November 13, 2008
Lake Placid News
“I have a hard time talking about it,” said Herald LeClaire. His shoulders shook as we sat together following the Veterans Day services held in Keene. Earlier we had stood outside at the memorial with others who had served in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars along with their friends and family. It was a cold windy day. Snow and sleet pelted on those who had gathered to share prayers, poems and songs, lay a wreath, and raise and lower the flag for those departed.

“I was in the Navy in World War II,” Herald said. “I served for two and a half years on the USS Independence aircraft carrier (CV-22). I served on the flight deck on the catapult. We operated out of Pearl Harbor. We made four raids out of Pearl. The first was to the Marcus Islands and the second to Wake Island. On the third, to the Gilberts, we shot down six planes. We then were in a big air battle and our ship got torpedoed there. In dry dock we learned that three torpedoes had hit us, but only two went off. If the third one did, I wouldn’t be here today. We came back out and were in the Philippine campaign all the way up to the coast of Japan. We ended up in Okinawa. That is where the kamikaze hit us. We had a lot of close calls.” (More than 1,400 were launched by the Japanese against the American ships in the battle of Okinawa).

Herald stops talking. We sit. “Our job was to protect the fleet,” he said, his eyes moist as he looks inward and off, to a distant place and time of smoke, fire, screaming jets and planes hurtling toward the deck and tumbling into the sea.

“On Veterans Day, we pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of the men and women who, in defense of freedom, have bravely worn the uniform of the United States,” said town supervisor and veteran Bill Ferebee. “From the fields and forests of war-torn Europe to the jungles of southeast Asia, from the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan, brave patriots have protected our nation’s ideals, rescued millions from tyranny, and helped spread freedom around the globe.”

“I served in the 10th Mountain Division in Italy,” said Charles Smith. “I was in the 85th regiment. I remember all the soldiers. Those were bad days. I was over there only seven months. We lost 996 and over 4,000 were wounded. Over the years I’ve attended some reunions with Germans who fought against us. They didn’t want to go to war any more than we did.”

“I served in the Navy aboard ship during Vietnam,” said Jerry Ormsby. “I served on the ammunition carrier the USS Kileua. My father was in World War II. My uncle was in World War II. My brother and I were both in the Navy. Most of the guys from here (Keene) came back when I served.”

“Today is a day to remember and honor those who have served, past and present,” said Frank Huchro who served in the Gulf War Operation Freedom. “Veterans Day means I served my country with honor and courage. I’m very proud to be an American and to have served my country.”

“I was in after World War II and got out after Operation Swarmer in 1950,” said Michael Buchanan. “I was discharged just after the Korean War started. I served with the 11th Airborne. I was in for three years. One of my very best friends was killed after a jump from a plane. His shoot didn’t open. He died within twenty feet from me.”

“I was in the Marines during Korea,” said Carl Bigelow. “I was in the airways. I was a radio airway repairman. I didn’t fly things, I fixed them.”

“I’m the chairperson of the Veteran’s Memorial Committee,” said Beth Pelkey. “I got involved because my dad was a serviceman. I didn’t pay a lot of attention what that meant or to veterans growing up. I had three daughters and worked with the girl scouts. About ten years ago a group of ladies and I decided to get this going. We felt that this wasn’t set aside to watch TV all day, but that it was a day off for veterans and they needed to be recognized.”

“I served in the Army in Korea, the 45th Division — the Thunderbird division,” said her father, Donn Garwood. “I drove a tank. I think that it is good that the people come out and celebrate and honor the people who have served. A lot of people didn’t make it. Veteran’s Day used to be called Armistice Day to honor those who served in World War I, the war to end all wars. It didn’t work out too well. We keep fighting wars. Maybe it is part of human nature.”

“I was born and raised in Elizabethtown,” said Cathleen Reusser. “My father was a state trooper. My oldest son Maxwell joined the Army right after high school. He served in the 82nd Airborne. I suddenly found myself as a mother with a son in the military in a war that I hadn’t supported, found myself with a son in Afghanistan. I talked with him every week. I learned more from the silences. My son has returned safely from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have a great amount of respect for all those who went out, wet behind the ears, and did a job, did a very hard job. Now I have two sons in the service. Maxwell’s younger brother Samuel joined. He is in AIT training right now. I still don’t agree with this war in Iraq. I always felt there was a better solution and I combine that with supporting my children. I probably have learned more about myself over the past four years. I don’t think that the average citizen truly understand this family of people unless they have been touched by it.”

“Charlie Smith had several purple hearts,” said Carl Bigelow. “He doesn’t talk about it. You have the whole range of experiences here. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“Even though we are a nation at war, it is all too easy in this great, diverse and bountiful land to forget the continuing service and sacrifice of our veterans,” said Bill Ferebee. “Those who wear the military uniform cannot forget, nor can their families. This Veterans Day we remember. Let’s keep all our veterans in our memories, close to our heart, every day.”

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