By Cody Neff
Veterans Day might only come once a year, but one of the veterans who put together Beckley’s Veterans Day Parade says we should always show veterans how much we appreciate their service.
“Veterans do so much and sacrifice so much,” retired Command Sgt, Maj. Charles Keesee said. “Right now we have veterans not only in Afghanistan, but also in the Philippines helping with that big typhoon that just hit. We have all of the military helping out over there.
“The families deserve a lot of appreciation, too. They sacrifice a lot for the veterans. It might be a wife worrying about her husband, or a husband worrying about his wife in today’s military. The husband might be home and the wife is the one overseas. They deserve a lot.”Keesee said the parade wouldn’t be possible without teamwork.
“All of us pitch in and do our part at the (American Legion) Post,” he said. “I’ve been working with the parade for 18 years. I was commander of the American Legion for two years. I put it together myself for a couple of years, but it’s a joint effort.
“Right now, raising the money for things like this parade is very difficult for us. We used to raise our money by bingo. We don’t have bingo any more, so we have to rely on either donations or fundraisers. People can call American Legion Post 32 if they’d like to make a donation. We appreciate any donations to help pay utilities and things like that.
“We used to do OK, but it’s rough any more,” he added. “One reason is that Raleigh Mall and Princeton have big, gigantic bingo games and it’s just knocked all of the little people out of the running. It’s a real struggle now.”
Keesee received a Bronze Star for his service in the Vietnam War.
“I have received 18 medals,” he said. “I have approximately 28 years military service. I spent 12 years in Europe. I was in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. My last overseas assignment was in Korea in 1978 and 1979. I retired out of the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky., in 1984.
“We didn’t get treated very well after we came back from Vietnam,” he added. “We had our own people treat us worse than the enemy, really. It’s gone up since then. I think patriotism has gone up. People show a lot more respect for the military.”
One veteran says he feels like some veterans are too quickly forgotten.
“I don’t think they do get as much appreciation as they should, especially the older veterans from wars like World War I, World War II and Vietnam veterans,” Army veteran Don Juan Barrett said. “It seems like those veterans have been forgotten. They’ve been passed over for the guys in recent wars like the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. These guys in wars like Vietnam seem like they’ve been forgotten about.
“I think every day someone should be honoring or showing appreciation to these veterans who’ve put their lives on the line. Just thank a veteran for every day that you see one or run across one. Just thank them. I’m sure it would be really appreciated. Freedom is not free.
“Me, myself and the other veterans who’ve put their lives on the line just for this country to have the freedom that we’ve had, people should show some appreciation towards the men and women who’ve put their lives on the line to make this a free country.”
Lowell Cook, a Vietnam veteran showed that he wouldn’t let anything get in the way of showing his respect and love for his country. He held tightly onto his family’s arms as they helped him rise from his wheelchair during the singing of the national anthem.
“I always look to see who all is here and who all came back,” Cook later said. “We all didn’t come back. People take too much for granted. We have so many freedoms like the freedom to get an education and freedom of religion.”
Another veteran said he looks forward to the patriotism of the parade every year.
“I just love all of the excitement, the people that turn out, the flags waving, people shouting, bands playing,” Cormie Hildebrand said. “It’s a great day. It’s made a lot of difference. When I came back from Vietnam, people didn’t even want to see you. They wouldn’t even speak to you.
“Since Desert Storm and forward, it’s changed a lot. People are really starting to appreciate veterans. I think to start with, in Vietnam it was a war that most of the people in our country were not in favor of. We lost a lot of young men there and I lost a lot of my young men there. People just had a nasty view of the Vietnam War. They couldn’t see the purpose of it.”
Hildebrand says his family has asked about his military past, but they understand that they should not to pry too much.
“I’ve got great-grandchildren,” he said. “I can talk to them about my service record. Oh yes, especially my two granddaughters. They’ve been curious about it. They pretty much left it up to me. They ask the question and they let me say whatever I want to say. They don’t probe too deeply. If there’s something a veteran would want to share, then they will.”
Hildebrand said the honor he’s most proud of isn’t a combat honor.
“The one I’m most proud of is something I did at my last few years in the service before I retired,” he said. “I was chief instructor at the ordinance school at Aberdeen, Md. I set up a counseling program there to stop the dropouts from the school. Even some of the instructors were dropping out. I set up a program to help those guys save their careers and to save students from dropping out. I really enjoyed that.
“Counseling is important. For many veterans, like myself, I didn’t seek counseling. I came back from Vietnam in ’69 and didn’t seek counseling until the ’80s. I kept thinking, ‘I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it.’ It reached a point to where I couldn’t.”Others in the parade said they do all they can to help veterans.
“Hospice of Southern West Virginia is part of the ‘We Honor Veterans’ program, which is a program that is part of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and Veterans Affairs,” hospice volunteer coordinator Becky Lilly said.
“They recognize that veterans have unique needs at the end of life. We honor veterans when we go into their home, we pin them with a flag pin and honor them for their years of service. We present them with a certificate. We have a great relationship with the VA here in Beckley.
The float hospice was showing in the parade was made to look like the inside of someone’s living room, complete with photos on the wall and a lamp on the table.
“It’s supposed to be a hospice patient and then we’ve got our team, which is our social worker, our nurse, and our volunteer going in to do the pinning,” Lilly said. “That’s normally what we would do with any of our veteran patients. We would offer them all of those things. Anyone can make a referral to hospice. They just have to contact our referral nurse, Della Lane.”
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