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Veterans group has long history, looks to future

By Staff | Sep 28, 2017

Chronicle photo by Toni Milbourne Members of the Harpers Ferry/Bolivar District Veterans participate in a Memorial Day celebration at Harpers Ferry Middle School.

HARPERS FERRY – The Harpers Ferry-Bolivar District Veterans saw their start in July of 1986 when Bradley Nash, then mayor of Harpers Ferry, asked local veteran Jack Albertson to form and head a veterans committee with the purpose of advising the mayor and council on veteran related issues.

The committee, entitled Veterans Affairs and Military Activities Committee, included Jack Albertson, retired U.S. Army dentist Bob Johnson and Agatha “Pete” Murphy, a U.S. Navy World War II nurse. In 1987 the committee was extended to, and accepted by, Bolivar Mayor Paul Courtney.

The group had many purposes and were in attendance at significant events happening within the towns. For example, in July, 1988, when Eldilberto Moreno, Ambassador to the U.S. from Venezuela, presented a bust of Simon Bolivar to the town of Bolivar, Albertson served as master of ceremonies. In attendance were nine ambassadors with entourages, mayors of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar, numerous other dignitaries, reporters from four television stations, and approximately 350 local residents

Veteran Stan Hadden organized a group of local veterans in October 1991 to march at the upcoming Veterans Day ceremony. The first organized Veterans Day Parade in Bolivar was held that November. Twelve veterans marched down Washington Street to the fire department, in temperatures hovering around 14 degrees.

The Veterans Affairs and Military Activities Committee soon expanded and included Albertson, Benny Morgan, Paul Ranalli, Dixie Wiltshire, Flick Bond, George Kidwiler, Hadden, Tom Daily and Sonny Ranalli. They continued to be an active and vital part of the community.

In February 1993 Wilshire organized a committee to design and erect a Veterans Memorial at the Harpers Ferry Junior High School (now Harpers Ferry Middle School). The Jefferson County Board of Education subsequently approved the construction of the memorial. The construction of the memorial was paid for by donations from local veterans.

The first organized Memorial Day ceremony in Bolivar was held on May 31, 1993. The Veterans Memorial was officially dedicated at that Memorial Day ceremony.

On Jan. 7, 1995 Albertson represented Harpers Ferry Mayor Adam Craven during the commissioning of the USS Harpers Ferry in New Orleans, Louisiana. Upon his return, Albertson appeared on radio station WXVA’s Home Town Talk show to discuss the ship’s commissioning ceremony.

The Veterans Affairs and Military Activities Committee voted unanimously on Jan. 24, 1995 to form a veterans association. The name chosen was the Harpers Ferry/Bolivar District Veterans Association (HF/BDVA). Albertson wrote the constitution and bylaws for the newly formed group. Membership had now grown to 50 veterans. The first Executive Council of officers included Hadden as Commander, Wiltshire as 1st Vice Commander; Lewis Meadows as 2nd Vice Commander; Morgan as Sergeant-At-Arms; Kidwiler served Chaplain; Albertson as secretary and Ranalli as treasurer.

During the late 1990’s the HF/BDVA began a partnership with the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park that continued for the next 15 years. The Music in the Mountains military band concert series was the product of this partnership and throughout its run the series was enormously popular.

Large crowds turned out to enjoy the talented musicians of such bands as the U.S. Army’s “Pershing’s Own,” the Marine Band, the U.S. Air Force Concert Band and the Navy’s “Commodores.” By far the most popular ensemble to play in Harpers Ferry was the Marine Band’s “Free Country.” Their first performance was on Sept. 8, 2001. By popular demand they returned every year after that for the next nine years. Due to budget constraints, the NPS discontinued support of the concert series after 2011.

Today the HF/BDVA continues its proud tradition with participation in the annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies at the Harpers Ferry Middle School. A parade from the post office to the school precedes each of these events and is led by the Jefferson High School Junior ROTC Honor Guard and Harpers Ferry Middle School Band. On the Saturday before Memorial Day the members place flags on the graves of all of the veterans buried in the four cemeteries in Harpers Ferry and Bolivar. These cemeteries are the Harper Cemetery, St. Peter’s Cemetery, Fairview Lutheran Cemetery and Cedar Hill Cemetery. The veterans group typically places around 250-300 flags throughout those graveyards each year. Each year the unit is honored by the Harpers Ferry Middle School at their pre-Veterans Day talent show and veterans’ appreciation ceremony.

An Honor Guard was formed early in the unit’s history and will continue for as long as members are available to participate. The Honor Guard participates at veteran funerals in the tri-state area, as requested by the families of the deceased. Current Honor Guard members include Bob Bauer (Navy), Gary Chrisman (Army), Bill Coleman (Coast Guard), Doug Craze (Air Force), Bob Hankins (Army), Wayne Hough (Army), Scotty Johnson (Marine Corps), Frankie Longerbeam (Army), Perry Mentzer (Army), John Sherwood (Army), Wayne Smallwood (Navy), Cecil Tucker (Marine Corps) and Gene Wright (Army). Craig Wright, son of Gene Wright, is an honorary member.

In addition, the unit responds to various other civic groups as requested, such as flag raising for opening ceremonies. They have participated in events with the Jefferson County Little League, Jefferson County Fair and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Walk Off the War combat veteran hikers program in Harpers Ferry.

Never idle, last summer the group performed Honor Guard duties for the opening ceremonies of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation annual meeting held at the Clarion Hotel in Harpers Ferry. Other participations have included the annual War Memorial Park pre-Fourth of July patriotic concert in Martinsburg with the Williamsport Community Band, Williamsport, Maryland 4th of July celebration, The Jefferson County Parks and Recreation 4th of July celebration, the annual Charles Town Car Show and the annual Harpers Ferry, Charles Town and Brunswick Christmas parades.

Like other veteran organizations, the HF/BDVA has experienced a continual decline in its membership over time. Seeing membership at its highest point over 200 strong, the organization currently averages approximately 30 members. The average age of those active in the unit is 75.

New interest and members to the organization is vital to allow the long-standing group to continue to honor the veterans in the tri-state.

Any veteran, honorably discharged, is welcome to join the non-profit organization. Annual dues are only $5. The group meets every third Tuesday of the month from January through October at the Bolivar Community Center at 7 p.m. Any interested veteran can contact Doug Craze, Commander, at 304-728-0469 for more information or visit their page on Facebook.