One hundred years to the day after fighting ceased in The War to End All Wars, World War I, community members gathered at the Raleigh County Veterans Museum on Harper Road to honor and remember those who have served in the armed services of the United States. Originally Armistice Day, Nov. 11 officially became Veterans Day in 1954 after the two American wars that followed World War I.
As memorial flags waved in the brisk but sunny afternoon sky, museum director Cindy Parker thanked those in attendance for coming to the ceremony.
“Thank you for coming on this cold, cold day,” Parker said before getting to the mission on hand. “Our service members had to go out and do their job in all kinds of weather. So, today we remember those who have given of themselves for our country. We look on the blessings of liberty and on the sacrifices that keep us free. We reflect on those people, our veterans. They are not just soldiers, they became our heroes; we all owe so much to them. Let us never forget to pray for them as well as their families. Let us never forget the sacrifices they have made for us.”
Stacy Vasquez, the director of the Beckley VA, was the event’s guest speaker.
“I am a veteran so this is a particularly special day for me,” said Vasquez, an Army veteran, adding that the day in particular is one when she likes to meet and talk to other veterans one on one.
Highlighting the history of the day and its tie to World War I, Vasquez shared some statistics from that war.
According to the VA director, more than 16 million people were killed, including nine million soldiers and seven million civilians, along with more than 21 million people left wounded.
“The United States joined the conflict late, but still more than 116,000 Americans died,” Vasquez said. “West Virginia mustered over 58,000 soldiers, and they suffered over 5,000 casualties.”
Along with the human price West Virginia paid during the war, Vasquez spoke on the Mountain State’s civilian response, particularly in the coal industry, which fueled ships and trains and supplied the steel for the war effort.
“As always, West Virginians, many from southern West Virginia, answered the nation’s call,” Vasquez said.
Highlighting the irony that World War I wasn’t the end of war, Vasquez spoke on the flags displayed in remembrance.
“The flags in the Healing Garden are an expression of our honor and remembrance for those who died in serving our nation,” Vasquez said. “We remember their sacrifice, many from World War I, and all veterans of all eras.”
Tying World War I to all of America’s wars, Vasquez read John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” a poem that has garnered special meaning to memorialize veterans around the world.
That poem’s last stanza, written from the perspective of a fallen soldier, calls for remembrance.
“Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
Following Vasquez’s speech, the names of veterans listed by local residents were read and those who have passed were remembered with the striking of a bell.
Parker spoke on the emotional difficulty of the day.
“It’s hard,” Parker said. “Knowing that our men and women are out there sacrificing their lives for us to be free.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH