The Blue Ridge Veterans Celebration held the seventh annual Veteran Appreciation Dinner in honor of “Veterans and Hidden Heroes” at the Vinton War Memorial on November 9.
The dinner took place in the Grand Ballroom and was free for veterans and current military members.
The event was co-sponsored by the Blue Ridge Veterans Celebration, the Vinton War Memorial and the Town of Vinton–Special Programs.
Special Programs Director Mary Beth Layman welcomed veterans and other guests, thanking them for their service and the “Hidden Heroes” caregivers who work behind the scenes.
Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church of Vinton prepared a spaghetti dinner for the veterans and guests, which was served by Scouts, leaders, and parents from the Great Valley District. Packs 235 and 1 were represented, along with Troops 235, 210, 540, 183, 51, 5, 76, and 211.
A special ceremony honoring veterans followed the dinner.
Great Valley District Commissioner Tony Whitaker, himself a veteran, opened the program with a brief history of the United States Marine Corps, celebrating their 243rd birthday. The Marine Corps was created by the Continental Congress in November 1775.
By process of elimination, Whitaker identified the oldest and youngest Marines present at the dinner so that they could participate in the cutting of the ceremonial cake. PFC Eugene C. White was the oldest Marine at age 86. He served in the Reserves during the Korean Conflict. Sgt. Joshua Davis, age 36, was the youngest Marine attending the dinner. He enlisted in 2001 and served two tours of duty in Iraq.
By tradition, the cake was cut by the oldest Marine who presented the first piece cut to the guest of honor at the dinner— John D. Long. The first bite of the second piece of cake cut went to the youngest Marine present— symbolizing the passing of knowledge and experience in the Corps.
It was also noted that November 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
John D. Long, Director of Education at the National D-Day Memorial, was the guest speaker for the Veterans Appreciation Dinner. Long is also leader of Troop 51 in Salem, where his son Jack is a Scout.
The topic of Long’s enlightening presentation was “Boy Scouts Involvements and Contributions During World War II— 1941-1945.” He detailed how “the skills learned in Scouting were put to use in World War II.” Those skills were utilized on the battlefield by soldiers who had learned Scouting in their youth and on the home front by Scouts contributing in their own way to victory.
Scouts who entered military service during the World War II era had fortunately already learned leadership, responsibility, teamwork, how to work in a hierarchy, how to take orders, how to serve with patriotic fervor, and how to serve the community during their years in Scout packs and troops.
The Boy Scouts organization was newly formed about the time of World War I and had contributed to that effort by conducting scrap metal and paper drives and by collecting peach and apricot pits used in gas mask filters.
When war was declared on December 7, 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the previous day, Long said Scouts were asked to “be prepared to do what they were asked to do,” and “rose to the occasion.”
With millions of men gone to war, there was a manpower shortage at home, which the Scouts helped to bridge.
Scouts contributed in four main ways during the World War II years: through collections, distribution, production, and conservation.
They collected scrap metal (over 210,000 tons of scrap aluminum), rubber tires and hoses, waste paper (over 720,000 tons), and milkweed pod floss (used in Navy life jackets). Research shows that the Scouts collected more milkweed floss than was known to exist— enough to make 2 million flight jackets. Scouts in Radford dismantled a metal bridge for the scrap metal and replaced it with a wooden bridge.
The General Eisenhower Waste Paper medal was created and awarded by the War Production Board to Scouts who collected at least 1,000 pounds of waste paper during the General Eisenhower Waste Paper campaign.
As for their service in distribution, the Scouts were asked to distribute posters supporting the war effort throughout the community and became couriers of information prepared for emergencies, such as an expected aerial attack by Germany. Long said that the Scouts were trained in first aid as well.
Scouts produced food for the war effort through Victory Gardens.
“No one was hungry in the US, unlike the rest of the world,” said Long.
The General MacArthur Gardening award was offered by the National Gardening Institute in 1945 for those involved in the “Food for Freedom” Victory Gardens.
In addition, during World War II, Scouts contributed to conservation through maintaining and replanting almost two million trees taken for use by the government. They cleaned streams. They also became firefighters, replacing those who went off to war. Locally, teenage boys fought forest fires on Catawba Mountain.
Scouts worked in communities to help resettle refugees displaced by the war from foreign countries
“The lesson learned was that when you give Boy Scouts tough jobs, they rise to the situation,” said Long.
He commented that while the Scouts contributed mightily to the war effort, they kept up their regular Scouting activities of attending camp, earning badges, and training in skills they would need when they themselves entered the military.
“Scouting filled a niche for boys’ lives disrupted by World War II,” Long said.
Long told a story of an instance in which Scouting transcended the conflict. An injured American, facing a Japanese soldier standing above him with a bayonet who told him he was going to be killed, made the three-fingered Scout salute and was subsequently spared. He later found a note in his pocket that said, “I could not bring myself to kill a fellow Scout.” A memorial of this incident was erected in Japan.
After World War II, Scouts continued to assist those in other countries with the “Project Shirts Off Our Backs” campaign, sending help to Scouts in other nations recovering from the war.
Long concluded his talk by saying that World War II helped shape the Boy Scouts. When Scouts were needed, “they were always ready to step up.” Returning soldiers became the next generation of Scout leaders.
The veterans event continued outdoors at the High Ground Monument with a Flag Retirement Ceremony conducted by the Boy Scouts from the Great Valley District Boy Scouts of America.
Scout Royce Apple opened the ceremony with the playing of the national anthem on his trumpet and closed with the playing of “Taps.”
American flags were retired in a ceremony ensuring dignity and respect. The flags, separated into stripes and blue fields of stars, were solemnly placed in the fire and burnt to ashes until they were no longer recognizable as American flags. Veterans and Scouts were asked to participate in the Flag Retirement Ceremony at the High Ground Monument by placing the flags on the flames.
Veterans who attended the Blue Ridge Veterans Celebration received grommet mementos from past flag retirements, designed by Scout leader Janette Sink.