In Walkersville’s Memorial Park and at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Main Street, more than a 100 people gathered Sunday as the sun shined brightly overhead. Veterans Day isn’t until Wednesday, but Walkersville’s Veterans Committee, along with other community partners, honored local veterans for their sacrifices and contributions in an hour-long ceremony.
Don Schildt, chair of the veterans committee, presided over much of the event. Early on, he recognized Harry Scyphers, a 96-year-old Walkersville resident who served in the Army and was part of the D-Day invasion during World War II.
Once Scyphers stood up, the crowd — mostly sat on rows of blue folding chairs during the ceremony — erupted in applause.
That was also the reaction when Larry W. Cook, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, finished his speech. Cook, the featured speaker, spent roughly half an hour describing his experiences during the war, including on the USS Constellation in the Southeast Pacific.
He described having to guard the bodies of fallen soldiers during the war so that the VietCong or other opposing forces didn’t steal them for body parts. He also spoke about preparing fighter planes to drop bombs and other weapons while serving aboard the Constellation.
“You never forget about the war ... because it goes on with you, until the day you die,” Cook said. “There’s a little bit of a difference between a war veteran and a regular veteran.”
He suffered a leg injury in part because of combat during the war. He thanked the U.S. for paying him a pension because of that.
Cook declared it’s important to appreciate the little things in life — adding the things he missed most while serving was seeing the rabbits in his yard and hearing the birds singing.
“Those things were more precious to me than money,” said Cook, originally from Woodsboro. “And if you don’t think those things are precious, have someone take them away from you.”
Along with Cook’s speech, Walkersville commissioners Tom Gilbert, Mary Ann Brodie-Ennis and Michael McNiesh distributed large flags and hats to every veteran in attendance.
Veterans Committee member Rhonda Ramsburg helped lead a portion of the ceremony dedicated to the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA) alumni, which honors the 21 people lost in a plane crash in a field north of Walkersville in 1981. On May 6, 1981, a training mission turned tragic, when a U.S. Air Force EC-135 surveillance jet exploded and crashed into a farm north of Walkersville, killing everyone aboard.
Ramsburg and Bob Beach, who captains ARIA and served as a flight test engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio — where the plane that crashed departed from that day — thanked those gathered.
They also recognized Don Schildt for his work on the veterans committee, including his efforts with the ARIA alumni. Beach said it was Schildt who got the Veterans Day events started.
Cook asked everyone gathered to remember the Walkersville victims, along with all other living veterans.
“We never, never forget about those boys that came home, and their moms and dads were waiting for them,” Cook said.