VIENNA — As more than 130 people gathered to honor veterans Friday, Del. John Kelly spoke about how he did that as a member of the U.S. Air Force.
Kelly, R-Wood, was assigned to the Air Force Honor Guard from the end of 1968 to early 1971. During the height of the Vietnam War, they conducted four or five military funerals a day every weekday at Arlington National Cemetery.
“That was 10,000 rounds of ammunition fired for 21-gun salutes while I was there,” he said.
Kelly spoke at the City of Vienna’s annual Veterans Day observance, moved from the usual venue of Spencer’s Landing near the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument to the gymnasium at Jackson Middle School due to rain from the remnants of Hurricane Nicole. He shared the Honor Guard’s motto of “To honor with dignity.”
“For those who gave all, we stood there and honored those veterans with dignity,” Kelly said.
Kelly discussed participating in the inauguration parade for President Richard Nixon less than a month after he arrived for service at Bolling Air Force Base.
“As I stood there and watched that parade, I thought, ‘how in the heck did I get here?’” he said.
Kelly also participated in the military funeral services for former President Dwight Eisenhower and a planned ceremony in which Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After more than two hours, they were informed she had postponed the event.
“It was not real comfortable standing at attention for two-and-a-half hours,” Kelly said.
After that, Meir was not very popular among the Honor Guard members. But after she left office she wrote a book and mentioned the incident, apologizing to the military members she’d kept waiting.
“After that book was published, it was OK,” Kelly said. “It was OK. We accepted it.”
Vienna resident Paul Stone said he appreciated Kelly’s remarks and wondered if they’d met before.
“I may have put him in the Air Force as a recruiter, I’m not sure,” he said with a laugh. Stone started out in the Army Air Corps in World War II and remained as it transitioned into the Air Force, retiring after 24 years.
He said he appreciated the ceremony.
“I remember when I came back from overseas (Germany) in ’65, the country wasn’t that good to us. It’s better now,” he said.
Stone said he plans to attend the Parkersburg Veterans Day event today, with a parade from Parkersburg High School to City Park slated for 10 a.m., followed by speakers at the park’s military memorials.
Both Parkersburg and Marietta moved their Veterans Day parades to Saturday because of the rain. Marietta’s parade is also scheduled for 10 a.m. downtown.
Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp said Friday’s ceremony went exactly as it would have at Spencer’s Landing, minus the ceremonial firing of a Civil War-era cannon by local reenactors Carlin’s Battery.
“We’re not going to shoot the cannon off inside the gym,” he said with a laugh.
At the close of the event, Rapp pointed out to children in attendance that many of the veterans were older individuals and he encouraged them to listen to their stories.
“The stories that they know and the people that they’ve met … these are stories that won’t be heard anymore if you don’t ask your grandfather or your uncle or even your father” to tell them, he said.
Evan Bevins can be reached at [email protected]