WHEELING - Job, jobs, jobs. That's what Medal of Honor Recipient Hershel Woodrow Williams, a Marine veteran of World War II, said veterans need most as they return from war.
Williams, who resides in West Virginia, is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. He, along with Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, Maj. Gen. Edward J. Mechenbier, were the honored guest speakers at the third annual Veterans Day 10K Run/Walk Three Rivers USA Track and Field 10K Championship held in Wheeling on Saturday.
Nearly 500 runners and walkers participated including about 150 veterans. A banquet followed the race at WesBanco Arena. Race Director Hugh Stobbs said the race serves as fundraiser to benefit the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Medal of Honor Recipient Hershel Woodrow Williams makes a point during Saturday’s Veterans Day race banquet at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling.
"After this race, we will have donated over $50,000 to the Paralyzed Veterans," Stobbs commented.
Williams said he and several other veterans advocates are working toward state legislation that would provide returning veterans full credit for their military experience and training. He said troops who have been trained and worked as truck drivers, medical personnel and at other jobs, should not have to start over when they return to civilian life. He also said the National Guard should be treated the same as the "regular army."
"It's not fair for National Guardsmen to be used in Iraq and Afghanistan like the regular army and not be federalized when it comes to benefits. As it stands now, if they don't have 180 days overseas, they don't get the benefits that the regular army does. It's not their fault if they are only there for 30 or 60 days. They should get the same benefits," Williams commented.
Williams said when he returned to the United States after World War II, he flew home on a plane with 49 former prisoners of war.
He said despite the torture and years of imprisonment, the POWs were "the happiest people you ever saw."
"They said you never know what freedom is until you've lost it," Williams said.
Mechenbier, a personal friend and fellow Viet Nam War veteran with race committee member Wayne Barte, said today's "new veterans" should seek out the services of the Veterans Administration.
"Veterans need to know the VA is reaching out to them. Despite all you might have heard or read about the VA, they are there to help the veterans," Mechenbier said.
Mechenbier was a POW for almost six years in Viet Nam and recently returned to Southeast Asia only to find that the site of his former holding cell is now a golf shop. He urged his fellow veterans to let go of the past and live life to help others.
"The world has changed so much since Viet Nam ... be a proud veteran."
Major sponsors for Saturday's race and banquet included Progressive Bank, the Ohio County Commission and Valley Hospice. A total of 26 individuals, groups and businesses contributed to the event. Running legend Bill Rodgers took part in the race and banquet. Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge read a city proclamation in honor of the race. Race chaplain, the Rev. Bryan Carpenter, an Air Force veteran gave the invocation.