Veterans recall tours of duty, parade canceled due to virus 

Edward Nelson Hunt, 93, is one of the oldest World War II veterans in Patrick County.

By Taylor Boyd

The annual Veteran’s Day parade and ceremony are canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Richard Cox, treasurer of the Patrick County Veterans’ Memorial Honor Guard, said “most of our group’s members are in their 70s, and some are in their 80s. So, we’re at high risk for the virus.”

Cox added the organization canceled all activities for this year, and is uncertain of future plans.

“We’ll have to see what the new year brings,” he said, adding events likely will not be held until the pandemic is under control.

In the interim, donations to the Honor Guard may be sent to Cox at 7888 Woolwine Hwy, Woolwine, Va., 24185.

Donations to the American Legion can be sent to Gary Griffith at P.O. Box 77, Woolwine, Va., 24185.

Although the day will not be marked with the usual festivities, some area veterans shared a few memories of their tenure of military service.

 

WWII

At 93, Edward Nelson Hunt, of Stuart, is one of the oldest World War II veterans in Patrick County.

Noting that he enlisted on May 9, 1945, Hunt said he thinks he’s “the oldest one that was originally from the county.

“I was told I was going to be drafted when I turned 18. I didn’t want to go into the Army because I would rather drown then be shot at in the mud. So, I asked my dad to sign for me to join when I was 17 so I could join the Navy,” he said.

“My dad thought it over for a few days and said he would sign for me to join the Navy as long as I promised I wouldn’t come back with a tattoo,” he added.

Hunt went through basic training in Bainbridge, Md., and was transferred to San Francisco.

“When we were waiting on our transfer orders in California, I met Link Swafford, who was also from Patrick County. He beat me out there because he was a little bit older than me,” he said.

Hunt and Swafford were placed on the same ship going to the Philippines.

“When I went topside, all I saw were seasick seamen. It seemed like everyone, including Swafford, was sick the entire week it took to get to the Philippines,” Hunt said, adding he never got sick on a ship.

Hunt said he was then transferred to a ship heading for Japan.

“A little bit into the journey to Japan, I went topside and looked around because I was wondering if I could see the island. I saw nothing but ships as far as you could see in all four directions. My ship was part of a convoy of 250 plus ships heading to Japan. When the convoy got to Japan, we broke off into different naval units to demilitarize the county. My ship was part of a convoy which went into a cove to confiscate guns and bayonets and blow up gun mounds in the mountains,” Hunt said.

He added that one person was killed while destroying the gun mounds.

After his unit completed its mission, the ship became a transportation vessel.

“We built fridges on the top deck to transport fruit and vegetables to different islands, including Saipan. We also transported beer. A few days into doing that, the captain had to put a lock on the fridge doors because the stock kept disappearing,” he said. “We docked at Truk Atoll, (now Chuuk Lagoon), one of the small Pacific Islands, and I got to go to the on-land cafeteria. When I was eating, I saw a figure approaching me with a beer in each hand. It was Swafford, who had been stationed on the island.”

Hunt then was transferred to a ship going stateside. “I remember arriving back in San Francisco, because the ship arrived on my 19th birthday,” he said, adding that he was discharged on Aug. 17, 1947 after arriving in Norfolk.

“I took a limousine to Danville to meet my parents. There was a man whose job it was to transport discharged soldiers home,” Hunt said.

Hunt said he was at sea most of the time and didn’t stay in one place long enough to see danger. “I wasn’t on land long enough to get that tattoo my dad didn’t want me to get either,” he said, jokingly.

Two years later, when he was 21, Hunt married Mary Ware Owens, his wife of 68 years.

 

Donald Worley is pictured sitting on a crate of 94-pound bullets his unit shot during the Vietnam War. (Contributed photo)

Vietnam

Donald Worley and Harless Belcher, Vietnam veterans, shared some of their memories.

Belcher, of Woolwine, recalled he was 19 when he was drafted into the Army.

“I was working at the sawmill in the county when I was drafted in April 1968,” he said.

Belcher received nine weeks of basic training and nine weeks of advanced individual training. “When I went to Vietnam, I was put in a MLS11B combat unit. We were a mechanized unit that had armored personnel carriers to help carry us around,” he said. “My second day there in the field, I earned my combat badge.”

Belcher said he was in too many battles to count during his tour.

“I couldn’t tell you about all the battles I was in. I remember in May 1969, my unit was in contact 21 times that month. I was in Vietnam for nine months and 18 days,” he said.

Belcher was discharged from the Army at Valley Forge General Hospital in Penn.

“I’m a wounded combat vet. My right arm was amputated and my right knee and leg were severely wounded” during his tenure, he said.


Harless Belcher during a 2019 interview at The Enterprise. (File photo)

Belcher said his treatment by Patrick County residents when he arrived home helped him through his recovery process.

“I think the people of Patrick County are the greatest. When I came home, I was never ridiculed or nothing by anyone in the county. Shoot, I couldn’t even buy myself a hamburger when I first got home,” he said.

Worley was drafted in the Army on June 6, 1969.

“I got my draft notice nine days before I turned 26. I was an old man compared to the other guys, who were between 18 and 20,” he said. “I was in Vietnam for 11 months and 23 days. I was a truck driver hauling ammunition to fire bases for the first 2 or 3 months, then I was transferred to a gun section to provide auxiliary support.”

Worley was on 29 fire bases, and provided backup for the infantry division.

“The infantry would do reconnaissance, and would signal to us to provide artillery when they needed support,” he said. “It was an air mobile division, so helicopters would carry our guns, which shot 94-pound explosive bullets.”

He added the guns were the heaviest artillery that could be moved by helicopter.

“I remember that we slept on the ground. We would dig a hole, put a cot below us, and sleep with sandbags on top of us. It’s what kept us safe,” Worley said.

Worley left Vietnam on Nov. 23, 1970, but still had time left on his tour.

“They were going to station me somewhere in Texas, but I went to the Pentagon and asked to be stationed closer to home. So, they placed me at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland,” he said, adding he served as the Section Chief Acting Sergeant of a gun section at Fort Meade.

“In March 1971, the captain called me into his office and asked me to re-sign for another four years. I said no because I had a job and a life waiting for me when I finished my service,” he said.

Worley said the captain told him soldiers that had 90 days or less on their time could get an early out.

“I had 81 days left. The best thing that happened to me was the 81-day early out,” Worley said.

 

Retired Lt. Col. Douglas Dunlap rides in an Army Jeep while participating in a previous Veterans Day Parade. This year’s event was canceled due to concerns about the pandemic. (Contributed photo)

Cold War

In August 1971, now retired Lt. Col. Douglas Dunlap enlisted for four years in the Individual Ready Reserve.

“It was a requirement because I received a full four-year Army ROTC scholarship at Virginia Military Institute,” he said.

Dunlap was discharged from the reserves on May 15, 1975, and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army one day later.

“I was commissioned a month after Saigon fell, so I didn’t go to Vietnam,” he said, adding his 28-year military career spanned the Cold War, Gulf War, and part of Desert Storm.

Dunlap was assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was part of the Border Legion that patrolled the West-East German Border.

“I spent three years looking over the fence into Communist Germany watching Communists look at me. At that time, everyone in the world was preparing for World War III with the Soviet Union. My regiment would have been the first ones to encounter an attack west across the Berlin border,” Dunlap said.

He said being stationed in West Germany was one of his best assignments.

“My unit felt like we had a real-world mission. We were preparing for war because cavalry regiments are typically the first ones to go to battle and the last ones to leave,” he said.

During the Gulf War, Dunlap was assigned to the Pentagon.

“I was sent to the United States Central Command headquarters even though I was originally assigned to the Pentagon Joint Staff Joint Intelligence when the war broke out,” he said.

His next combat assignment was in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I was sent to Iraq after the war officially ended, but there were still some issues with Al-Qaeda and guerilla warfare. I was part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) team in Baghdad. We were embedded with the Iraqis and we trained Iraqi officers in the new Iraqi army,” he said.

Dunlap is retired from the Army, but is in the Retired Reserve.

“I could be recalled to active duty, but the chances of that are slim to none,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Subscribe

more recommended stories