Richmond commemorates Veterans Day with music, speeches and motorcycles
Warm temperatures and partially cloudy skies served as the backdrop to Thursday’s annual celebration of Veterans Day at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.
Prior to bagpipes and drummers warming up and events beginning, a motorcycle brigade featuring veterans from the Vietnam War forward rode in from Chesterfield County under police escort to honor their peers. Donning dark leather jackets with patches highlighting regiments or tours of duty, the group of over two dozen stood and took pictures in front of the memorial and took in applause and thanks from those who joined them.
One of those who took part in the ride was Air Force veteran Richard Milton. He served at Edwards Air Force base in California in the mid-1980s. He said he’s taken part in the annual ride from Chesterfield’s fairgrounds to the memorial on a regular basis because doing so is a way to honor their service.
“Everyone has something in common. Whether you were in Vietnam, Korea — there are some Korean Vets around still — or the Cold War or pre- or post-9/11. Everyone gets together. Age doesn’t matter. You all get together, whether you’re in combat or not combat,” Milton said.
One of those Korean veterans is 90-year-old Winfred Clark Sr. He said it had been a couple of years since he could go to a Ceremony at the War Memorial.
“A few years, I couldn’t do it,” Clark said. “But I begged him [pointing to his son next to him] to take me,” he said.
He spent nine months in Korea, which included three major battles, he said. One included a battle called Pork Chop Hill.
“Two hundred and fifty-one of my company went up that hill. Eighteen hours later they pulled us off — 25 of us could walk. We walked off.” Clark said.
His service earned him two Bronze Stars and a Medal of Valor for saving the life of another soldier who he rescued after hearing cries from nearby bushes. Clark says the company had cleared the area of wounded soldiers already but the cries he heard made him want to go back to check — even though, he says, it could have been a trap.
After rescuing the soldier, he followed him to the aid station, but never saw him again — until many years later at another Veterans Day celebration in which that soldier talked about being rescued by someone who saved his life. Once the soldier realized it was Clark who saved him:
“He jumped up, and hugged and hugged and hugged and told his wife, ‘He’s my angel,’” Clark said.
After patriotic music by the Benedictine College Preparatory School Chorus and the 380th Army Reserve Band were through, speeches from military and some state officials were followed by students who won essay contests.
Then keynote speaker Kathleen Jabs, Virginia’s acting secretary of veterans and defense affairs, spoke to a crowd of almost 200 who sat on concrete benches that lined the hill at the Heilman Amphitheater. She said it’s everyone’s duty to pay respect and show gratitude to those who wore the uniform in service to the country.
“[Gov. Ralph Northam’s] charge to me is straightforward: Make Virginia the most military and Veteran friendly state in the country,” Jabs said. “That’s a broad mandate and the governor means it.”
Jabs reminded the crowd that Northam is also a veteran, serving as an Army doctor. The secretary said her entire department shares a passion for veterans.
“We treat every day as Veterans Day,” she said. “Because our pledge remains the same: Better the lives of Virginia veterans and their families.”
Jabs also added a special thank you to the Virginia National Guard for its current work in helping Afghan refugees.
“Right now, more than 10,000 Afghans — men, women and children — are housed on military bases here in Virginia,” Jabs said. “These state agency teams have once again answered the call to public service.”
After Jabs’ speech, the crowd ascended the hill to see a new exhibit, called “Who They Were: Lives Worth Knowing,” while others stopped for hugs and took pictures of the many veterans who attended.
Virginia Capitol Police detained two men near the event who got into an altercation over free speech issues.