By JOHN McVEY
KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. — Since the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg began giving out pins to Vietnam War veterans two and a half years ago on the 50th anniversary of the war, Tim Cooke, director of the VAMC, said it has been his pleasure and privilege to have given out 3,600 pins.
“For those of you who may not have received the welcome you deserved when you got home from Vietnam, let me say today, ‘Welcome home,’” Cooke said Wednesday during The Journal’s Unsung Heroes banquet.
Cooke also handed out pins recognizing every branch of service and era of conflict. Pins were distributed Wednesday to veterans of World War II, Korean War, Gulf War, Global War on Terrorism, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.
Each year since 2001, The Journal has published a weekly series of stories called Unsung Heroes that honors all veterans by featuring a veteran and letting that veteran tell his or her story. There have been 438 stories.
And each year, The Journal has hosted a banquet for the veterans featured that year. The veterans are given plaques recognizing their stories and the VAMC presents them with a printed copy of their stories.
This year, all the featured veterans from the beginning of the series were invited along with a guest.
Including the class of 2017, 58 veterans attended this year’s banquet, which was held at Hospice of the Panhandle.
At the entrance to Hospice of the Panhandle, John Sherman, a volunteer at Hospice, said there were 135 small American flags displayed that represent the veterans Hospice had served since the last Veterans’ Day. He said Hospice offers programs to honor veterans, such as a certificate of appreciation customized for each era and branch of service, and an honor service for deceased veterans.
In addition to the pins, plaques and published copies of their stories, each veteran received a handmade quilt from the Quilts of Valor Foundation.
“The mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation is to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor,”according to its website.
Sue Motes of QOVF presented the quilts.
Also, U.S. Marine Corps veterans Mike Wiltshire and Cy Kammeier presented to Motes and Jeff Thorn of QOVF a burial flag in recognition of the organization’s service to veterans.
Entirely on his own, Wiltshire obtains American flags that have been draped over coffins of deceased veterans, refurbishes them and frames them for presentation to organizations and individuals. He has presented more than 160 framed burial flags.
A moment of silence was observed for James Tolbert Sr., a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, who was featured in this year’s Unsung Heroes series. He died Oct. 26 at the age of 85.
In addition to The Journal, Hospice and the VAMC, the banquet was sponsored by the American Legion, Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority and Shepherd University-Martinsburg Center.
The annual Veterans’ Day commemoration at the Doughboy Monument on West King Street in downtown Martinsburg will be at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or twitter @jmcveyJN.
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