By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK -- Graying veterans and those who have just joined the military came together to pay tribute to each other in a grandstand program Thursday at the Shenandoah County Fair.
Ray Powell of Woodstock, the event's organizer, estimated 400 to 500 gathered to hear patriotic speeches, sing the National Anthem and salute a color guard that carried the American flag onto the racetrack.
Powell said the weather caused him some uneasy moments the night before, but the track was in satisfactory condition by the time the program began at 11 a.m.
"We had heavy rain during the night but the fair association came through so we could have the color guard presentation," Powell said.
Powell said he had been trying to get retired Army Gen. John N. Abrams, who lives in Basye, to speak at the event for three years, an effort that paid off this year.
Abrams, who retired as a four-star general, linked the veterans in the crowd with the young recruits seated before him in the grandstand.
"Not every generation has been able to come back victorious in war, but all of us come back in recognition of the standard that was started by our World War II veterans and carried on by this tradition since 9/11," Abrams said.
"You must all know we're very proud of you," Abrams added, referring to the recruits. "You represent the very best of this country, the very best of Shenandoah County, and I wish you the best in your military service."
Abrams drew a round of applause as he called on the audience to pressure the president and Congress to spend enough money to make sure veterans receive proper care for service-related injuries and illness.
"There's been a question of how are we doing taking care of our vets," Abrams said. "Frankly, I've been a little bit of a thorn in some people's sides -- not enough. And I share that with you because I believe the treasure of this country must be spent to take care of those who have served, no matter how difficult the disease or their wounds from war.
"We've got to commit the treasure and give thanks as we honor those who have served and returned home, and I don't think we should get lazy about that at all. I think we ought to just keep demanding and do the right thing and take care of our buddies and their families and continue to press for the cures that are needed from diseases to the causal factors of wounds, both physical and mental."
Two local students also gave speeches that were warmly received. Taylor DiPaola, 14, a home-schooled eighth-grader from Strasburg, and John Douglas, also 14, a ninth-grader at Valley Baptist Christian School in Edinburg, praised the virtues that contribute to American greatness.
Douglas' speech was chosen as the winner of an essay contest sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. DiPaola's speech was honored by the American Legion.
"Our founding fathers deserve respect for their legacy, courage, and wisdom," Douglas said. "These are the qualities that make our America a thriving nation."
DiPaola said she loved America for its freedoms.
"We have freedoms varying from religious liberty to gun rights, to free speech and the right to own private property," she said. "Without one's freedoms, there is not much to live for, and many countries suffer without them."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org