PARKERSBURG - Veterans and their contributions were honored Thursday at Parkersburg Catholic High School.
Speakers at the service were two members of the Wood County Detachment of the Marine Corps League, Ed Westfall, who served in Lebanon, and Mike Francis, who served as an explosive ordnance disposal technician.
Francis said in addition to Veterans Day on Nov. 11, the day before, Nov. 10, is an important day to those who served or are serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Photo by Jeffrey Saulton
Speaking about his experiences as a U.S. Marine in the 1980s and early 1990s was Mike Francis, of the Wood County Detachment of the Marine Corps League.
"Saturday is the most important day of the year for Marines," he said. "It's our birthday; we will be 237 years old. The Marine Corps was founded on the 10th of November 1775, the year before the Declaration of Independence was signed. So on Saturday if you know a Marine or if you meet one, be sure to wish them a happy birthday."
Francis said he first enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves out of high school and later enlisted in the Marines.
"In 1984 I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves and trained at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and when I turned 18 I enlisted for active duty in the United States Marine Corps," he said. "They sent me to boot camp again but this time it was at Paris Island, S.C.
"Believe me it was a much different experience and from there I was sent to Fort Knox, Ky."
Francis said during his time in the Marines he had many experiences ranging from working with explosives in explosive ordnance disposal to marching in the rain.
First he was in a tank battalion at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and in 1989 he was deployed to South Korea and then he was deployed in 1990 as part of Operation Desert Shield after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He was also stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Francis said looking back he would do nothing different in regard to his service. He medically retired from the Marines in 1998.
Francis said he has shrapnel in one arm and one hand, steel rods in both legs from the knees to the ankles and pins and screws hold his body together.
"I've had skin grafts, bone grafts and gangrene," he said. "I'm half deaf and I wear hearing aids. I have a bone disease and I walk like a creature from a horror movie.
"People ask me 'if you had to do it all over again, would you?' and I tell them, 'to have had the chance to serve my country as a Marine you bet I would.' I love God, my country, the Marine Corps, my wife and my family."
Ed Westfall spoke of his experiences in the Marines when he was deployed to Lebanon in the late 1950s. He enlisted in 1957 and his physical was an eye exam when he was asked to read the top letter on the chart.
He went to boot camp on July 1, 1957. "It is a land of swamps and mosquitoes."
Westfall added he also learned the correct Marine terms for things like the bathroom, the head; the floor, the deck, and ceiling, the overhead, and the walls, the bulkhead.
"When I enlisted I was cocky and when I got off the bus I was a tough, tough boy. I smoked Pall Mall cigarettes," he said.
When instructed to put out the cigarette he dropped it on the deck and smashed it with his foot. Later he was on the ground eating the cigarette.
"After six weeks if they would have let us call Mom and Dad I would have and asked them what my birth name was," he said. "You have a tendency to forget since they don't call you by your birth name, you get some wild names."
Westfall said when they got through boot camp some wished they had not but it was worth it for them.
"Boot camp was tough, boot camp was very, very hard," he said. "But we were proud to be through and we served our country."
Jordan Wiseman, student council president, said the goal of the service is special.
"We really wanted to make Veterans Day special for our veterans and for our students so they could understand what it's like for veterans, and be able to appreciate them," she said.
Wiseman said after the program was planned the school's girls volleyball team made it to the state tournament.
"It turned into a send-off for them as well; they made the tournament for the first time in 15 years," she said. "It started off being solely for Veterans Day but everyone is so excited about the team and one of the co-captain's grandfather is a veteran so he's excited for her."