Recently there was a rumor used to try and convince some large families to steer their support away from me during the election by telling them that I was against soldiers having bridges named in their honor if they were not able to obtain a certain level of rank before they got out of the military. I want to state that nothing could be further from the truth with those accusations.
When it comes to the naming of bridges I think it must be actions, not rank. Think about it… we have 315 names on a wall with Logan County boys that went off to fight this nation’s wars that never returned home. Their hopes and dreams bled out on battlefields scattered across the globe, yet, I would say over 95 percent of them have never been honored with their names on a bridge. Why is this? I will give you the main reason why — many of the families of those who have fallen have moved on leaving only a few relatives remaining in the area. With few relatives comes few votes!
I truly believe that the vote count is the driving factor behind our politicians controlling the bridge dedications in many cases… but not all! I attended a bridge dedication in Chapmanville for a SFC Thomas Clyde Farley that I was honored to participate in. SFC Farley was a Desert Storm veteran, he had served in Bosnia to help put a halt to the genocide that took place leaving thousands dead and he also served in the invasion for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Reading over SFC Farley’s decorations and actions I felt really confident that we were presenting a bridge to a man who lived the life of selfless service.
Had it not been for James Tony Robinson submitted his lifelong friend for the bridge, his family may have never been given this honor I feel SFC Farley truly deserved. I also was able to participate and speak at the bridges of SSG Glenn White Jr and 1LT Edward Eiland, both WWII veterans that were truly worthy to receive such honors. The only issues that I had with those is why did it take so many years for those gentlemen to finally receive the recognition? If there was a panel of combat veterans that would seek out and honor those who are truly worthy, these people should not have had to wait until they were in their late eighties and nineties to be recognized.
The requirements for these bridges need to be steep. It should not be for someone who only served in a combat zone. We have thousands that have done that. There must be significant action while they were in that combat zone or other contributions that they have made to veterans after they pushed the combat boots into the closet. Since we may only have less than 50 bridges left in Logan, it needs to go to those who have went above and beyond.
We have two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients (Molnar and Belcher) that both have bridges that bear their names. I recently submitted the paperwork that was approved to name a bridge in honor of SSG Billie E. Vincent who fought off a Japanese frontal bayonet assault killing six enemy soldiers which earned him the Silver Star. Logan also has a recipient of this nation’s second highest valorous award, the Distinguished Service Cross by Edward F. Evans who fought off an attacking enemy force, killing and wounding seven of the enemy successfully denying the enemy the chance to complete a flanking movement that would have resulted in the death of our American force. To my knowledge, Edward F. Evans has not been honored with a bridge. That needs to happen!
All valorous awards should automatically be honored with a bridge. Those are the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star. I also feel that as a combat veteran, any person who paid the ultimate sacrifice by losing his/her life in combat deserves to be recognized in some form, preferably a bridge but like I stated earlier, we have 315 that have paid the ultimate sacrifice and I know we do not have nearly that many bridges left that are not already carrying the name of another.
After the valorous awards and the fallen are recognized, let it be up to a panel of combat veterans to decide whether or not others are worthy. The politician can still submit the paperwork and get credit for pushing it through the House and Senate floors but when we leave it completely up to the politicians, I fear that sometimes it may fall into how big the family is and how many votes can a bridge generate for the next election.
Service in combat should not be the deciding factor because Logan County has historically pulled more than our share of the weight and actually sent more troops to Vietnam per capita than any county in America… it must also be actions!
To crush the rumor that was spread about me not being supportive of the lower ranks receiving a bridge, I recently submitted the documentation to present a local Marine who was horrifically wounded during the Siege at Khe Sahn. He would receive the Purple Heart but that is not the deciding factor as to why I submitted him for the bridge. I submitted him for the bridge because of the years of dedicated service to all of his fellow veterans by establishing and leading many of our Veterans programs that exist in Logan today. There have been times in the past where if this man would have walked away from his numerous positions in groups like the Vietnam Veterans Association, The Purple Heart Association, The Disabled American Veterans Association and the Veterans of Foreign Wars many of those would not exist in Logan today.
Lastly, for those that think I may have future ideas for a bridge with my name on it — wrong! The only way I would accept such an honor would be if it came from fellow veterans. Not politicians! I do not think I will ever merit a bridge because I made it home. I have been blessed to watch my children grow, enjoy life with my wife and retire from military service. As long as we have so many out there that paid the ultimate sacrifice that have received no recognition, how on earth would I ever be worthy?
I do not believe that rank should ever be a factor concerning acceptance into Halls of Fame or dedications of bridges, roads, lanes, etc. It should always be based on actions — never pay grades!
Sappers Clear The Way! Airborne All The Way!
MAJ (RET) Richard Ojeda II