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Old and new traditions at Salem Veterans Day events

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

State Representative Lori Benedict teared up as she spoke at a Veteran's Day ceremony at the Salem VFW, on Friday, Nov. 11.

"This would have been one of the proudest days of my dad's life, to be sitting here today while I gave tribute to his gallant and fallen comrades," said Benedict of her father, who was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. "I brought along the flag which draped his coffin. I was there to give living testimony to the man who gave no second thought of running into battle, yet cried when taps were played."

While Benedict asked the audience to remember veterans who gave their lives in battle or passed on later, a band of surviving World War II veterans were given special recognition at the ceremony.

VFW member George Wiggam worked to find living Fulton County World War II veterans. Many of the 15 vets he identified are sick and feeble, but six of the veterans were present, along with about 100 others, who attended an outdoor ceremony or stopped by for a lunch served afterward.

Chester Cotter, who fought on the front lines in France, Belgium and Germany, shyly said, "It's alright," when asked what he thought of the special recognition he and the others were receiving.

Like most of the veterans, Cotter returned home to Fulton County after the war and "ran cattle," rarely discussing his traumatic war experiences.

"I like to never got over it," said Grover Borden, another local WW II vet. He remembers crossing the front lines into Germany, under heavy fire. "I couldn't sleep when I got back home. I never did tell anybody much about it," Borden added.

Borden also excitedly talked of the trip he recently took with other Arkansas veterans to the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

"I am proud I went," said Borden. "They went all out to make it. It's really pretty."

Wiggam said he was impressed at how modest the elderly WW II vets he tracked down were.

"Most of these vets don't want to take credit for anything," said Wiggam. "I love coming to VFW meetings to talk to other vets and learn their stories, but I hate doing the honor guards (at funerals). It is an honor, but it means we lost another veteran."

Rep. Benedict reminded those in attendance that America loses about one thousand World War II vets a day, and the number of living World War II vets in Arkansas is shrinking rapidly.

"We have just a few remaining in our grasp, to have and to hold and to love and to cherish," said Benedict.

William Strauss, 92, another Battle of the Bulge survivor, received a plaque for his war service and his work in veterans organizations.

"Bill Strauss is said to be the last horse calvary mounted soldier that is alive today," VFW member Ron Beeching explained. While there is still a military horse calvary for parades and official ceremonies, Beeching said his research shows Strauss is, likely, the last living veteran to be trained to mount up and ride into battle.

The six elderly Fulton County WW II vets who were able to attend the VFW ceremony enjoyed their moment in the spotlight. The VFW provided fruit baskets to those in attendance, and made deliveries to those who were not able to attend.

Salem Schools begin Veterans' Day observance

"What are we doing?" a Salem Elementary school student asked, as the student body gathered outside the school.

"Remember? It's Veterans Day," her teacher replied. "Who is a veteran?"

"Someone who fought in a war," the girl responded.

For the first time in recent memory, Salem Elementary and Salem High School students went outside to say the Pledge of Allegiance around their flagpoles, and to pause for a moment of silent prayer.

Later, in classrooms, teachers presented lessons on Veterans Day and the contributions of the nation's veterans.

"Mr. Rich (Superintendent Ken Rich) thought of doing this," said Elementary Principal Corey Johnson, "I hope it turns into a yearly event."

Thomas Lemon Jr., a veteran who walked up on the observance, was on his way to visit his daughter's classroom.

"I think this is a great idea," said Lemon, of getting youth involved in Veteran's Day.

Lemon, who served in the Gulf War, said he considers Veterans Day, "My day, sort of like my birthday."

"We also invited parents who are veterans to come to school this morning for breakfast," said Johnson. "While we didn't have too many, I think we will next year, when more people are aware of it."

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