By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, May 29 — More than 100 gathered inside of Avis O. Comer VFW Post 8613 on Saturday morning to escape the rain. Yet, nothing could dampen the patriotic spirit and pride that swelled in each person as the Town of Shenandoah honored our fallen soldiers, and all veterans, for the sacrifices they’ve made.
“These saints definitely deserve all the reverence and respect we can give,” Mayor Clinton O. Lucas Jr. said during his welcome. The event opened with “As the Saints Go Marching In” as local youth paraded between the seated guests carrying the red, white and blue with pride.
Both the invocation of Pastor Ellen Martin and the opening address by the mayor, focused on the true meaning of Memorial Day — not “hot dogs, the beach and mattress sales”; but rather celebrating the “freedoms to do what we do” by remembering “the price that we paid for it.”
For about half of the 24 years that Shenandoah has held its memorial service, they have honored the families of those in military service who have “paid the ultimate sacrifice”. This year, one of the honored families was that of Sgt. Jacob Ryan Shifflett. The Army Ranger enlisted after his 2017 graduation from Page County High School on his 18th birthday. He died on Sunday, April 25, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia.
“A little over a month ago, the Town of Shenandoah lost one of its young heroes,” the mayor said on Saturday, trying to keep his composure.
Jacob ran cross country at PCHS. He was a Sergeant with the 3Rd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga. According to his obituary, “many of his fellow soldiers said they made it through Ranger School because of him. He always made people laugh and touched the lives of many people. He was well known for his great smile.”
“The grief for this family has just begun,” Mayor Lucas said, “so I ask the community to be there for them. Do everything you can to let the Shifflett family know we are there for them.”
The memorial service also honored the family of Staff Sgt. Christopher Pantos, of Richmond, who passed away last month at the Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait.
“Regardless of where someone may come from, we want them to know that we honor the sacrifice that they have made, knowingly and willingly volunteering to serve our country and protect the freedoms that we enjoy every day,” Mayor Lucas said.
The ceremony included multiple musical numbers, including Vice Mayor Bill Kite’s history and rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and Monica Brewer’s annual performance of “Some Gave All.” Veterans in attendance from all five branches of the U.S. military were called up front for recognition according to their area of service, lead by local Boy Scouts carrying the flag of that branch marching to the appropriate service anthem.
Sean Wheeler, who served a one-year deployment in Iraq, gave a moving speech and presented each honored family with an encased, folded flag on behalf of the Town of Shenandoah.
Wheeler became emotional speaking about the average loss of 22 veterans daily to suicide.
“Unfortunately, many of us bring the war back home,” Wheeler said. “Until we, as veterans, check on our brothers and sisters, it may continue.
“I saw a post [on social media] earlier today that said: ‘Arlington Cemetery is 639 acres of why we are still free.’,” Wheeler continued. “If you know a veteran, reach out to them.”
An old country song titled “”Meet Me At Arlington” was played following the standing ovation that Wheeler received.
A variety of emotions were evident in the faces across the room throughout the 90-minute memorial service. A holiday with roots back to the Civil War to mourn the fallen on the battlefield, has grown to be an inspiring annual tradition in Shenandoah — one that brings out both sympathy from a shared loss, and an enduring sense of pride in the service of the heroes it honors.
While COVID-19 may have altered last year’s plans, and the rain may have driven activities indoors on Saturday — rest assured that there will be a 25th Memorial Day celebration in Shenandoah next year, and the tradition will continue.
A flag retirement ceremony planned for Friday was POSTPONED to Monday, May 31 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Veterans Park, 205 Virginia Avenue. The car show on First Street originally planned for Saturday, was POSTPONED to Monday, May 31 from 1 to 6 p.m. For more information about the car show, call Nancy Karnes at (540) 742-1141 or visit their Facebook page.