Veterans connect 100 years of fairs, military service
WOODSTOCK – Military veterans received a welcome home Thursday during the Shenandoah County Fair’s 100th anniversary celebration.
The veterans’ tribute featured guest speakers Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, retired, and Narce Caliva, who spoke about the American Red Cross, which is also celebrating its 100th anniversary. Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, also spoke at the event. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Wade Zirkle served as the master of ceremonies.
Gilbert and others lauded retired U.S. Army veteran Ray Powell for his efforts in putting on the annual event. The audience made up mostly of veterans gave Powell a standing ovation for his work in the community.
The state legislature has worked hard to help the 800,000 veterans and 150,000 active-duty service members living in Virginia, Gilbert told the audience. The state recently expanded the number of veterans care centers that provide long-term nursing care, Gilbert said. Legislators also created the Virginia Values Veterans, or V3, program to provide incentives for employers to hire former service members. The state also removed impediments that keep veterans from obtaining employment, Gilbert said.
Narce Caliva, a director at the Korean War Veterans of America and a retiree from the American Red Cross, spoke first about the aid agency’s current operation helping the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The aid agency also recognizes its 100 years of service to the armed forces, Caliva said.
“We’ve always been closed to the troops,” Caliva said.
In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, none of the branches of the armed services had a nurse corps, Caliva said. Instead, the American Red Cross recruited thousands of nurses to go to the war theater in Europe and aid the troops, Caliva said. Hundreds of nurses were killed in action, he added.
Freakley, 64, served in the U.S. Army from 1971 until his retirement in 2012, achieving the rank of lieutenant general. The Woodstock native and graduate of Central High School in Shenandoah County taught at Arizona State University after his retirement.
Freakley called Powell the “ideal veteran” who served in Vietnam and then in Shenandoah County for all former service members.
Freakley pointed out that this year also commemorates the ongoing 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War in addition to the 100 years for the fair and the United States’ entry into World War I. He asked the audience to imagine life 100 years ago, noting the absence of Interstate 81, smart phones, televisions.
“People were proud to be on their farms and earning a living producing agriculture and dealing with the animals they were raising,” Freakley said.
The Shenandoah County Fair Association formed in 1916 to plan for the first event the following year, Freakley said. The association at the time asked the Board of Supervisors for permission to expand the fairground road to accommodate motor vehicles, he noted. The fair served as a platform for groups like the Future Farmers of America, 4H and for country music.
While most people in Shenandoah County did not support the United States involvement in “a foreign entanglement,” Freakley said, 161 men from around the county were called to serve in the new national army. They left from Strasburg on Sept. 20, 1917 to serve in what was called “the war to end all wars.” Freakley then read an account of the departure as reported in a local newspaper. Freakley read some of the last names of the men who boarded the train to Camp Lee in Petersburg – the descendants of whom remain in Shenandoah County.
“In the midst of this was the fair, the Shenandoah County Fair,” Freakley said. “It served to bring the county together. It provided a sense of stability, of roots, to family and friends, a place to see and experience the hard work of our farmers and their families, and a great place to experience gratitude for a bountiful harvest.”
Since the first fair, men and women of the county have answered the call to duty, Freakley said. County men and women didn’t fully support the United States’ entry into World War II but stepped up anyway, even mining magnesium in the nearby mountains, Freakley said. The fair association did not hold its annual event in 1942, 1943 and 1944 as the county supported the war effort, Freakley noted. Shenandoah County men and women fought in the Korean War in 1950 and in Vietnam more than 10 years later.
“Men and women who served in Vietnam are just like their forefathers in the second world war and Korea – they only wanted to serve our country, to do their duty, to uphold the ideals of freedom, of dignity, of peace and push back the rising tide of communism,” Freakley said.
“They were treated terribly,” Freakley said of the Vietnam veterans. “They bore the brunt of a nation when they returned to home, divided by that war.
“But yet today’s military stands on the shoulders of the Vietnam veterans because they said never again and today’s military is the best manned; it’s the best equipped; it’s the best trained and it’s best supported in hometown America and events like this because of our veterans from Vietnam,” Freakley added. “So I think we owe a special thanks to our Vietnam veterans in particular and, each one us, we must say to them because they never got this when they came home – we must say ‘welcome home. Well done. We’re proud of you.'”