By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, May 28 — Mayor Clinton O. Lucas Jr. welcomed a full house of nearly 150 at Shenandoah VFW Post 8613 during this year’s Memorial Service. The Army veteran reminded the large crowd that “those we honor today gave everything they had for their country.”
Following the invocation, the singing of the National Anthem and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, Mayor Lucas spoke of the day’s meaning and teared up while reading a poem called “In Their Honor.”
This year’s Memorial Service — one of the cornerstone’s of Shenandoah’s Memorial Festival — focused its main tribute, as it does each year, on a recent fallen soldier in Virginia. The family of AWS1 James Buriak was invited to attend the Memorial Day weekend event in Shenandoah to honor their loved one for, according to the mayor, “qualities that can’t be given, but only earned.”
The Naval Aircrewman Rescue Swimmer had earned several accolades since his enlistment in 2017, but he also performed heroic acts while not in uniform. Buriak earned his first “save” by rescuing a drowning tourist while off-duty in Guam. He trained in San Diego, Calif. and Pensacola,Fla. before serving on both the USS Theodore Roosevelt (two tours) and the USS Abraham Lincoln.
The Salem native and Roanoke College alum was killed, along with four other Navy crew members, last August.
“We mourn with them, and we very much appreciate Jimmy’s sacrifice,” Mayor Lucas told the family members seated up front. “What he did, he did not only for Salem, Va., but for the Shenandoah Valley and every small community.”
The mayor spoke of Buriak’s interests as an avid cross fitter, who prided himself on physical fitness, as well as never having “a person that met him that didn’t like him.” After telling Buriak’s story, the VFW post presented a folded flag to his widow, and members of the audience came forward to pay their respects to the family.
“Thank you for taking the time out of your Saturday morning [on a holiday weekend] to pay respect to our family,” she said.
Buriak’s widow spoke on behalf of a foundation that supports families of soldiers involved in Navy and Marine mishaps. His family started the foundation in honor of AWS1 Buriak — to learn more about the foundation visit www.theaws1jamesburiakfoundation.org.
“Take some time to think about not just Jimmy, but all of those who didn’t make it back,” Mrs. Buriak told those in attendance. “I appreciate you all…you all will hold a special place in my heart.”
Mayor Lucas spoke about the 10 qualities that Buriak tried to live his life by, noting that “the military does make special people out of individuals” and its all-volunteer status “takes a special person to step up.”
A native of Shenandoah served as the afternoon parade’s grand marshal — Retired US Air Force Master Sergeant David Shuler. The 1989 PCHS alum ushered in the return of the parade after a two-year absence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shuler also spoke during the morning’s Memorial Service at the VFW.
“I’ve spent 30 years away from Page, but I will always call the Page Valley home,” he said.
Shuler recalled the friends from Page that he heard from when his father passed on Aug. 6, stating that the “Town of Shenandoah and Page County raised me.” He told of fellow Air Force veteran Bruce Short coaching him in baseball, and memories of so many others from “the old days.”
The retired Master Sergeant told a story of once, as a young boy in Shenandoah, hearing a truck backfire and watching a man jump to the floor to take cover.
“I remember them telling me he was a Vietnam vet,” Shuler said. “I didn’t understand at the time, at age 10…but fast forward to 2006…in Afghanistan…and I understood.”
The Air Force veteran spoke of the 601 memorial bricks in Shenandoah’s Veteran Memorial across from the Post Office. He emotionally retold how he had escorted “six flag-draped caskets” home in 2006 — including one containing a close friend.
“When we pay respect, let it be not only to those who served,” Shuler said, “but let us remember to show love and support to their families as well.”
As the anthem of each military branch was played at the Memorial Service, veterans of that branch stood to be recognized as members of the audience waved American flags.
The flag retirement ceremony that typically kicks off the festival weekend on Friday was delayed until this past Thursday, June 2 at Big Gem Park. It was rescheduled due to the threat of lightning, but the event also had another dark cloud over it due to the passing of Philip Secrist. The longtime Boy Scout leader passed away one day before the annual flag retirement due to heart failure after more than 40 years of molding young men.
In light of Secrist’s passing, Shenandoah VFW Post 8613 presented a check for $1,000 to the local Boy Scout troop during the May 28 service. Attendees were encouraged to attend the day’s other events, including a Memorial Walk along the trail at Big Gem, a Children’s Parade at riverside park, and of course, the parade along First Street.
In closing, Mayor Lucas spoke of a “proud people” in Shenandoah who embraced “our country’s values.” Thirteen U.S. flags were arranged together in a stand created for last fall’s Veteran Day ceremony to honor the 13 American soldiers killed during the “chaotic” withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“We all should realize and recognize the sacrifices made so we can live like we live,” the mayor said. “Sometimes you have to lose something to realize how special it is.”
The Memorial Service ended with a brief benediction and the playing of “Taps.”
The Town of Shenandoah will be hosting a grand opening and ribbon cutting for its new museum, honoring the Town, the railroad and the USS Shenandoah on Saturday, June 18.