CHAPMANVILLE – Students at Chapmanville Middle School hosted an assembly in honor of Veterans Day. A hospitality room for guests was provided, the choir sang patriotic songs and students enjoyed a visit from W.Va. Sen. Art Kirkendoll and a panel of distinguished veterans.
Sen. Kirkendoll told the students the freedom we enjoy is due solely because of the men and women who serve our country. He told the students we often take our freedoms for granted and mentioned events seen on television that illustrate the difficulties two-thirds of the world live with every day.
“We able to do what we want to do and have what we want to have because of democracy,” said Kirkendoll, “If we ever give that away, we lose everything. The children here now will be serving our country in the next 10 years. Know that you are the future of this country and remember that in America, anything is possible, but it’s only possible because brave men and women sacrifice everything to keep us free. Always keep America’s spirit, keep America strong and keep God in your plan.”
Sen. John D. Rockefeller was not able to attend, but sent a letter honoring veterans which was read to the assembly.
Major Richard Ojeda, U.S. Army; 1st Sergeant Larry Thompson, U. S. Army, Recon. Scout, Vietnam; and SP-5 Larry Workman, U.S. Army Medic Vietnam; and Willard Thompson, U. S. Army, Crew Chief UH-1B, Vietnam answered questions from the students.
The first question was about how their lives changed after they joined the military. They all mentioned making the transition from boy to man and changing from having mom do everything for you to having to grow up and do for yourself.
The second question was about corresponding with family via letters or otherwise. Only Maj. Ojeda was able to go to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation room to talk to his family via Skype or cell phone, or use Facebook or email. The others were all mostly limited to mailing letters. One said he received a “Dear John” letter from his girlfriend, another spoke of having to wait a week to mail a letter and only getting mail once a month. If they were lucky enough to make a call, party lines back home usually meant they got a busy signal. Larry Workman said he managed to get all the way through to his mother using a field telephone then, before he could talk to her, the line went dead.
The last question was what their most memorable experience was. This question highlighted personal commitment and courage of each of them.
Larry Thompson wrote about his most memorable experience as part of his therapy to recover from the post traumatic stress he suffered as a result. The book has photos and details of the PTSD the faced after coming home from Vietnam in June 1966 after putting in a year’s tour of duty with the U.S. Army’s First Infantry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry.
Thompson joined the Army in 1961 at age nineteen. His entire unit shipped out to Vietnam in June of 1965. They landed at Vung Tau and started out providing security for Bien Hoa Air Force Base. Thompson and his fellow Big Red One troops were then sent on recon operations in several areas of South Vietnam, including the Central Highlands. On February 22, 1966, he and another soldier were left for dead after their unit withdrew under heavy fire.. He saw plenty of action and suffered emotionally after coming home. Thompson stayed in the Army, retiring in 1982.
“I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,” Thompson says, “which many people (including myself at one time) understand very little in regards to its devastation, and think of those suffering with PTSD as crazy or ready to snap at any moment.”
Maj. Ojeda said he graduated from Logan High School in 1988 and weighed only 82 pounds. He wanted to join the Marine Corps and was 11 pounds underweight. They told him to gain the weight and come back, which he did. As fate would have it, the Marine recruiter was out and he ended up joining the Army. His most memorable experience was graduating from airborne school and knowing that even though he was a little guy, he had what it took to survive that difficult military training.
Crew Chief Thompson said his most memorable experience as he and a pilot were flying to Cam Rahn Bay on the monthly trip to pick up mail. They were in the demilitarized zone when they received a message that three men were in distress in a raft a half mile off shore. They responded to the call and found the raft upside down with three men hanging onto it. He said he tied his seat belt through the skids on the helicopter to hold him as he pulled each of those men into the helicopter. He told the students he was curious about whatever happened to the men, but was unsuccessful when he had tried to find them.
Larry Workman being a medic meant having many memorable experiences, seeing 20-30 men come through every day. He said the one he chose to remember was landing at Fort Dix where he kissed the ground.
The students thanked everyone for their participation and Sam Murray played Taps to end the program.