MARTINSBURG, W.Va. —Black granite monuments on a knoll overlooking the pavilion at Martinsburg’s War Memorial Park gave 180 reasons for Monday morning’s Memorial Day services.
The monuments carried the names of Berkeley County residents who lost their lives in seven major and regional wars and conflicts. Two had numbers of names almost too numbing to imagine — 41 in World War I, 121 in World War II. A third monument carried the names of 15 veterans who died in Vietnam and one each in Beirut, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Not all veterans die in combat. Many, like Martinsburg residents John Harmison, Richard Seeley and Tom Riley, suffered wounds so serious that they still carry their effects 40 and 60 years after they served.
Harmison, 81, and Seeley, 83, were wounded in Korea. Riley, 66, was injured in Vietnam.
Harmison went to Korea with the Army’s 25th Division on Aug. 1, 1951. On Oct. 26, 1951, he was in the fighting for Heartbreak Ridge when an enemy grenade landed in his foxhole. It tore off most of his right leg above the ankle.
“I didn’t lose my leg,” Harmison said. “They stapled my foot back on, but I only have use of about 20 percent of my leg below the knee. The staples set off metal detectors,” he said, a touch of pride and humor in his voice.
Seeley went to Korea with the Marines in January 1951. Three months later, the truck in which he was riding with other Marines hit a mine. He suffered a broken back, hip injuries and loss of hearing, he said.
Riley was in Vietnam in 1966-67 with the First Air Cavalry doing reconnaissance missions. He was in a truck that was hit with a mortar round.
“I was thrown 40 feet in the air,” Riley said. “All the men in my squad were either killed or wounded.”
The three veterans joined their fellow members of the Veterans Combined Honor Guard of Martinsburg for Monday’s official “Salute to American Veterans.”
Roxanne Rupenthal, an American Gold Star Mother, laid a wreath in honor of all Gold Star Mothers. American Gold Star Mothers is a national organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in service to their country.
Rupenthal’s son, Army Staff Sgt. Stephen A. Seale, was killed in combat in Iraq on Aug. 6, 2006.
Former U.S. Rep. Harley O. “Buckey” Staggers, the guest speaker, told the audience that “only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ and the American GI.”
To support his plea for support of veterans, Staggers shared a quote from George Washington, who said, “Caring for our veterans is a continuing cost of war.”