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Veterans group keeps Memorial Day tradition alive in Harpers Ferry

By Staff | Jun 2, 2017

Chronicle photo by Toni Milbourne Members of the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry District Veterans stand at attention at the start of the Memorial Day ceremony at Harpers Ferry Middle School.

HARPERS FERRY – Despite the dwindling numbers in the membership of the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry District Veterans, the group kept tradition alive Monday as they held their annual parade to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

Each year, the Veteran’s group hosts the parade that is led by members of the Jefferson High School JROTC and the marching Tigers from Harpers Ferry Middle School whose rendition of ‘This Is My Country’ resounds through the streets of Bolivar. Joining in were a few groups such as the American Heritage Girls and Boy Scouts and, of course, the Veterans themselves. It was a small but mighty time-honored tradition.

After the memorial wreath was laid by Mayors Helen Detmer and Greg Vaughn, of Bolivar and Harpers Ferry, respectively, Commander Doug Craze stepped to the podium to serve as the speaker for this year’s event.

Traditionally the group welcomes a guest speaker, however, Craze said that this year he just wanted to share some information about some local Jefferson County military personnel who gave their lives in service.

In 2015, Craze began researching information on local servicemen and women for a wayside exhibit in front of Harpers Ferry Middle School. During his research, he found many interesting stories. He shared some of those Monday with those gathered to celebrate Memorial Day.

He spoke of Lt. William Broaddus, Jr., a Revolutionary War veteran whose grave was discovered in Harper Cemetery last year. Broaddus fought in the Battle of Monmouth (New Jersey) in 1788. While he did not die in combat, he was, Craze said, an original American patriot whose memory and location were hidden for countless years butares now preserved for all time.

Craze spoke of Sgt. Major William Geary, United States Marine Corps, from Harpers Ferry who served in Belleau Wood France in June 1918.

“The Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star were presented to William J. Geary for extraordinary heroism while serving in action near Belleau Wood, France. Having voluntarily and of his own initiative requested authority to join an attacking company, Geary was killed while gallantly leading his platoon forward against the enemy,” Craze shared. Geary is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Harpers Ferry.

Another soldier mentioned was Summit Point native Solomon Johnson, Private in the U.S. Army 93rd Infantry Division, 369th Infantry Regiment. His unit was known for being the first African American regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. The unit, nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters, was assigned to the French Army during the United States’ participation in the war. During an advance on October 2, 1918 in the Meuse-Argonne, Private Johnson was killed. He is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in Lorraine, France.

James White, of Shepherdstown, was a Corporal in the Army’s 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division. The Division landed at Utah Beach, Normandy in June 1944. White was killed in combat June 22, 1944, just 10 days after landing in Normandy. He is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery.

Craze also spoke of Gilbert Perry, from Charles Town, whose dream was to be a pilot. Perry’s father was mayor of Charles Town and his mother a city councilmember for several years. He was a graduate of Harpers Ferry High School and attended Shepherd College and WVU before earning an appointment to West Point. He began his pilot training on the B-25 bomber at Enid Army Air Base in Oklahoma. On September 11, 1946, while participating in a two-hour low level strafing/bombing exercise in Kansas, Perry’s plan hit a telephone pole, shearing off the right wing. All on board were killed.

John Cabell Breckinridge served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War. He was killed in battle on October 9, 1951 and was posthumously presented the Silver Star.

Bakerton resident John Morrison Mahoney, another graduate of Harpers Ferry High School, served as a Specialist 4 in the U.S. Army. He began a tour of duty in Vietnam on January 26, 1969. He was mortally wounded in a prolonged fire fight on August 12, 1969.

“Mahoney’s story was just one of the 58,315 servicemen and women who died in Vietnam,” Craze said. “It was chosen to illustrate the countless thousands of other men’s deaths in remote areas of combat throughout history.”

George Kidwiler, a resident of Harpers Ferry, remembers Mahoney well. He attended Harpers Ferry High School at the same time as Mahoney. Craze’s words of remembrance brought tears to the eyes of Kidwiler, and to many listening to the history of sacrifices made not by strangers, but by those who were born and raised in Jefferson County.