Gathering to recall service in wars past and present

Ceremony in Westminster pays tribute to veterans

Carroll County

November 12, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

About 90 former soldiers from Carroll County gathered yesterday in Westminster for a Veterans Day ceremony that featured speakers revisiting experiences from past and present wars, starting with World War I and ending with Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Though long converted into the city's gymnasium, Longwell Armory regained a part of its past with the tribute to the military yesterday.

Maj. Thomas Long of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office talked about his "grandpap." Army Lt. John Long arrived in France singing patriotic songs such as "Yankee Doodle" and "Over There," but then endured machine gun fire, artillery barrages and poison gas.

John Long survived, but, Thomas Long said, his grandfather's brothers-in-law weren't so fortunate, suffering and later dying from their injuries in the war.

"Sadly, it wasn't the war to end all wars," Thomas Long said.

The Rev. Fred Eckhardt, a chaplain for police officers and firefighters in Carroll, was a freshman at Western Maryland College during World War II. He said yesterday that he didn't want to be left out of a fight that all his buddies were signing up for.

"I didn't want to be the only one in an all-girl's college," Eckhardt joked. He became a chief petty officer in the Navy and fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

"I was there when [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur signed the treaty in Tokyo Bay," he said.

Eckhardt asked the veterans in the audience to remember Joseph Farinholt, one of the most highly decorated World War II combat veterans in the nation. Farinholt, who died last year, earned four Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, Belgium's Croix de Guerre and a Purple Heart.

World War II almost claimed the life of the father of Dr. Robert P. Wack, a local pediatrician and Westminster city councilman. Wack was asked to talk about his experiences during the Persian Gulf war as an Army major, but he began by thanking his father, an engineer who detected and removed landmines in Italy "until one day one took him out." Luckily, he survived.

Wack praised soldiers for exhibiting strength and discipline during grueling medical procedures.

Wack was one of the youngest participants in the event, which drew mostly gray-haired veterans, wearing hats adorned with medals. They stood proudly when their military branch's song was played. The Army was the group with the most representation, accounting for about half of the veterans there. Veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars also shared their experiences.

Finally, Sgt. Maj. Elaine Stem talked about dodging gunfire and missiles in Iraq during the latest conflict. As part of the Marine's Civil Affairs Unit, she brought food and mail to homesick soldiers.

"Those of you who sent mail, it was a godsend," she said.

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