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A prayer for our veterans

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Ron Steele, 68, of Harrisonburg, an Air Force veteran, bows his head during the opening prayer of the veterans tribute program Thursday at the Shenandoah County Fair. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Massanutten Military Academy cadets line up in formation during the veterans tribute ceremony Thursday at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Former Army Cpl. Arthur Decker, 63, of Toms Brook, sings the national anthem during the opening of the veterans tribute while Wade Zirkle, a Marine Iraqi War veteran, salutes. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Woodstock American Legion Post No. 199 Color Guard member Patrick McGee marches during the veterans tribute program. Rich Cooley/Daily

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BG Rebecca S. Halstead, US Army Ret., addresses the crowd during the veterans tribute program. Rich Cooley/Daily

Those who fought for U.S. honored at Thursday ceremony

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Thursday was a time for the Shenandoah County Fair to pay tribute to America's veterans -- past, present and future.

Retired Army Cpl. Art Decker sang the national anthem to the crowd, which included veterans -- some of whom had come from area nursing homes -- and the Massanutten Military Academy Corps of Cadets.

Marine veteran Wade Zirkle, who fought two tours in Iraq, narrated Thursday's program.
"One third of the world living under tyranny is a grim statistic, and it reminds us never to take our precious way of life for granted," he said. "But, the number of people living in freedom continues to grow. No country in the history of the world has done more than the United States of America to advance the cause of freedom around the world. It's because of [veterans] that this number of free people around the world continues to grow, and freedom continues its march. Thank you veterans for leading this fight, and thank you for being with us today."

Ray Powell, a retired Army colonel, organized the veterans tribute day at the fair. He noted the ill treatment soldiers received when they returned home from Vietnam.

"They need your thank you and welcome home," he said. "They need you to help them along, which is just as important for the veterans coming home today from Afghanistan, from Iraq. Welcome them back into your society. They've gone through a lot to preserve freedom around the world."

Rebecca Halstead, the first female West Point Military Academy graduate to be promoted to general officer, was the main speaker of the morning.

Halstead spent nearly a year as the senior commander for logistics operations in Iraq. She carries dog tags with names, ranks, and dates of death of soldiers killed in Iraq.
Halstead commented on the MMA cadets.

"Please, sometime today if you see these young adults in their uniform, go up and thank them," she said. "They're our future. They will be the ones who take our country to the next level of greatness. It's a privilege and an honor to recognize our veterans both past and present, and as I mentioned, our future."

Five motorcyclists with Rolling Thunder, dedicated to the missing in action and prisoners of war, rode by on the grandstand track.

Former Korean War POW Ed Reel, of Moorefield, W.Va., was at the ceremony with fellow members of the Korean War Veterans Association Shenandoah Chapter 313. He was held captive in a hard labor camp for 1,026 days, gaining his freedom on Aug. 25, 1953 -- "great day."

"I read through my Bible twice while I was there," Reel said.

"He has to live with what he went through," fellow association member Herb Taylor, of Winchester, said. "It never leaves him."

Taylor said the association strives to teach young people about the Korean War, in which 36,000 servicemen were killed.

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