Take A Veteran to School Day chaired by Jay Rockefeller

PARKERSBURG – Over 300 students, parents and community members attended a program chaired by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller honoring veterans Sunday afternoon at Parkersburg High School.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was joined by four military veterans with ties to West Virginia for the Take A Veteran to School Day program, which was sponsored by the West Virginia Telecommunications Association and The History Channel to collect information from veterans and archive it for the Veterans History Project.

Rockefeller was a strong supporter of efforts at PHS to restore its Junior Naval ROTC program after a drop in attendance brought about its cancellation. The NJROTC program has been reinstated after required membership levels were restored.

The veterans who joined Rockefeller for Sunday’s program included local resident Jessica Lynch, a POW in the Iraq War who was rescued by U.S. forces following her capture. Two other veterans were Fred Mayer of Charles Town, W.Va., a veteran of World War II, and John Proe, also of Charles Town, who served in Vietnam. Thomas Lopez, a West Virginia native from Fayette County, is a retired four-star admiral who was commander in chief for United States Naval Forces, Europe, and commander in chief for Allied Forces, Southern Europe.

“I think it’s an incredible gift when veterans agree to share their memories,” Rockefeller said as he introduced them.

“It takes incredible courage to share their experiences,” he said.

During Sunday’s program, each guest spoke for several minutes about their experiences in the military and some of the things they wanted those attending – especially the members of the NJROTC – to learn and think about as they considered their future service.

Lynch was a private first class in the U.S. Army when she was captured during the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003 during the Iraq War. She was rescued from an Iraqi hospital on April 1, 2003, having suffered extensive injuries in a Humvee crash.

In the years since, Lynch has undergone multiple surgeries and physical rehabilitation, along with earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Lynch told the students attending Sunday’s program that she also plans to continue working to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees.

Lynch urged the students at Sunday’s program to persevere in what they want to do in their lives.

“What I want to say to you guys is is never give up,” she said.

As the oldest veteran participating in the program, Mayer was born into a Jewish family in Germany which came to the U.S. due to rising anti-Semitism under the Nazi Party. After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and his command of several European languages led to his involvement in the Office of Strategic Services, which became the CIA after the war. During the war, he and others parachuted behind enemy lines in Austria in support of Allied activities.

Mayer urged the young people present to support their country if called upon to serve. As part of Sunday’s program, Rockefeller presented Mayer with a framed letter from President Barack Obama recognizing his service.

Proe was serving as a senior medical advisor during the Vietnam War when he helped rescue a downed Air Force pilot and an Army medic in the Gulf of Thailand while under fire. During Sunday’s program, Rockefeller presented him with a Bronze Star Medal with V Device for those actions.

Proe said he would do everything he did before again if offered another chance, not changing a thing. He said military service is a good way to learn, grow and develop as a person.

Lopez is one of two flag officers in the history of the U.S. Navy to achieve four-star rank after direct commission from enlisted service. He was also named West Virginia of the Year in 1998. He believes West Virginia is a special place, because of its people. He praised their high values, tremendous work ethic and patriotism with a strong tradition of military service.

Lopez said he thinks the NJROTC program at PHS will be a strong positive influence in the lives of its members as they grow and mature. He challenged the PHS students – in whatever they do in their lives – to leave things better than when they arrived.

Rockefeller and the veterans were also joined on stage Sunday at PHS by an active servicemember, Rear Admiral Dee L. Mewbourne with the U.S. Navy. Since December 2012, he has been commander of Naval Service Training Command, which is responsible for enlisted accession training, Officer Training Command, and the nation-wide Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and Junior ROTC programs.

Mewbourne was present to recognize the efforts of the students, staff and parents at PHS in restoring the NJROTC program at the high school. He thanked everyone involved in restoring the program and also urged everyone in attendance to remember veterans at every opportunity, including on Veterans Day on Nov. 11.