WOODSTOCK — Veterans and supporters spoke at the fairgrounds Thursday in honor of those who have made sacrifices for the good of their country.
Steve Jennings, chairman of the Shenandoah County Fair Veterans Tribute, offered words of support to veterans as well as medical personnel in attendance.
“I care very much about the job that you have done and are still doing, some of you,” he said.
The annual tribute took place at the grandstands on a sunny, breezy morning that followed Wednesday’s heavy rains from Hurricane Ida.
“A lot can change in 24 hours,” said Eric Anderson, executive director for the Red Cross in Western Maryland.
Commenting on the storm, he said, “the memory of such a dreary day [was] already making its way into history.”
Such is the case when it comes to emergencies that strike without warning and require community and national support.
He recalled how 140 years ago, Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross after being inspired by her work during the Civil War as a nurse helping soldiers at the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland.
Anderson was similarly moved to join the Red Cross after his father received a blood transfusion that gave him another two years of life following an illness.
Everyone who’s gone off to war has “been changed by a single day,” Anderson said.
“You do it because you’re driven to do that.”
For him, the Red Cross was a worthy calling because of all the work it does in helping people when they’re experiencing their worst.
“Sooner or later, the Red Cross touches most lives,” he said.
Also representing the Red Cross was Leslie Caliva, a 52-year volunteer who started in Germany and now works with the Greater Shenandoah Valley chapter.
“These programs have stood the test of time,” she said.
With 1,500 Red Cross volunteers currently focused on helping people escape Afghanistan following the recent Taliban takeover and another 500 anticipated on the ground by the weekend, she said, “We promise to be there with you.”
Thursday’s ceremony was part of the fair’s Veterans Tribute Day, which offered veterans free admission all day and included tables with information about veteran service organizations and support groups.
The ceremony honored veterans of all wars in which Americans have fought since the Revolutionary War.
Retired Lt. Gen Ben Freakley, serving as the master of ceremonies, called on attendees to stand if they were part of any recent conflicts since World War II, also naming Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Grenada, Panama: Operation Just Cause, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Band members from Central and Strasburg high schools performed patriotic music as Freakley called upon veterans from the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard to stand and receive recognition.
Honoring the late Col. Raymond Powell, who founded the Veterans Tribute Day in 2006 and died in 2019, Central High School senior Cheyenne Estep spoke about the annual scholarship she started in Powell’s name and which last year raised $1,000.
Powell “was someone I strive to be like every day,” Estep said.
A yearly attendee, Vietnam War Army veteran Buddy Polk, of Woodstock, said he appreciated the ceremony.
When he returned from war, he recalled, “nobody cared.”
Still feeling the emotion from that time, he said, “Thank God that I got to come home.”
Polk was 9 when his father deployed during WWII, but his father also made it home and lived until 2012.
Veterans aren’t always shown the support they need, but Polk said he hears a lot more “thank-yous” these days.
“I think [people are] more aware of it,” he said.
Also at Thursday’s ceremony was 96-year-old WWII Marine Corps veteran Berlin Allen, of Mount Jackson, who called the ceremony “very good” and plans to be back next year.
“Good Lord willing, I’ll try.”
Tributes like this one demonstrate the outpouring of support for a community’s veterans, Freakley said after the ceremony.
“I think it’s healthy,” he said. “It’s a great tradition.”
Whatever the reasons behind a war or conflict, he said, the soldiers are doing their duty.
“What they really ask is that the nation stand with them.”