- Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 11:10
- Published on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 11:04
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Veterans from King George and Westmoreland visited Post 252 in Montross on Veterans Day to honor their fallen colleagues, remember old times and enjoy the pancakes courtesy of the American Legion.
“Veterans Day means a lot,” said Steve Heitmeyer of King George, the Legion’s District 12 Commander. “It’s the camaraderie with our brothers and sisters. We have that bond you are not going to find with any other group.”
“Even though I am one of the younger veterans,” said the 50-year-old Heitmeyer, “I have friends that I have lost, and when I think about them today, it hurts.”
Veterans Day was observed across the nation as a national holiday on Monday.
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower joined the American Legion to lead the successful efforts to create Veterans Day in 1947. Prior to that year, the nation celebrated Armistice Day on November 11 and had done so since 1919.
Veterans gathered in Montross on Monday at Post 252 talked about their service and expressed concern for those who do not get to learn from the experience of serving with a band of brothers.
“I was drafted,” said Army veteran Melvin Foxwell, 81, of Montross. “I would not want to do it again, but I would not take anything for the experience I had.”
Foxwell served in the famed 101st Airborne in Germany at the end of World War II and also in the 2nd Armored Division.
Dr. Ralph Gardiner, 82, of Montross is currently an Anglican Priest in Westmoreland County. He served in France in the Air Force in the 1950s. “We lived on a base in France, it was cold, there was lots of mud and bad food. One winter, the water system froze, and we had no water or showers for months,” Gardiner recalled.
Despite those challenges, Gardiner served in the Air Force for 12 years, much of it as an instructor in places like Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. After leaving the Air Force and entering private business, he re-enlisted in the Navy for 17 years and became a Command Master Chief teaching aviation electronics and missile mechanics to the next generation of warriors.
Jim Bessert, 76, of Stratford Harbor served in the Navy for 25 years.
Today he is a civilian employee at the Naval Support Facility in Dahlgren, where he works with Heitmeyer, another civilian employee of the Navy.
“I am glad the country honors veterans,” Bessert said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think people appreciate veterans they way they used to do. It is not what is was.”
Gardiner said that the changing attitudes about veterans and about the military are easy to understand. “Those good feelings about veterans used to come from feelings that were expressed at home, in school and in church. Today, patriotism and history are a very, very small part of what young people are learning.”