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Chester County Press

Veterans program salutes all those who have served

11/04/2016 02:20PM ● By J. Chambless

Students from Patton Middle School stood around the tables of veterans and family members after their performance.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The red, white and blue decorations were the same, the patriotism was the same, but as guest speaker Henry Detering noted, there were some people missing this year at the Kennett Area Senior Center's Veterans Luncheon.

The ranks of World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans are thinning, and Detering – a retired Lt. Colonel and former teacher and principal – pointed out that “while there's nothing wrong with students today, they don't have the example I grew up with,” when veterans were everywhere in daily life. “Today, most families don't have any connection to death in uniform. The greatest generation is rapidly disappearing. Even my Vietnam generation isn't getting any younger,” he said. “But the veterans of the gulf wars, people who've served in Afghanistan – they have made the same sacrifices, and can teach you the same lessons about patriotism and sacrifice and love of our country.”

The annual luncheon is always a big event, and the Nov. 4 program drew a big crowd. Students from C.F. Patton Middle School provided a rousing musical medley that saluted each branch of the armed forces, and State Rep. Stephen Barrar spoke about “the failure in this country to educate our children about the cost of freedom and the cost of war. People think things should be given to them for free, but they don't understand that for every freedom we have, there is a cost,” Barrar said. “The opportunity I have to walk up the Capitol steps every day is guaranteed to me, not by politicians, but by our veterans.”

Mike Pralle, commander of VFW Post 5467, hosted the program and noted that he was frustrated by how today's veterans are being treated. “I did 27 years in the Navy, and I think our government should be doing more for us. I did a funeral about two months ago for one of our local veterans. He was 37 years old, with three tours in Afghanistan,” Pralle said, his voice cracking, “He shot himself because he could not get through the problems with our veterans affairs system. That's not acceptable. As veterans, we need to let our voices be heard. People in Washington need to know that veterans do count. We should take care of our own.”

When Detering was introduced, he began by asking the students and adults in the audience about Armistice Day that marked the end of World War I. “That was the end of the war to end all wars,” he said. “Then it got a number, and was followed by World War II. Unfortunately, there are very few veterans of World War II with us today. Some of the students who might have been here before may notice that, this year, they don't see all the same faces.”

Detering serves as the emcee of the Memorial Day parade in West Grove each year, and recalled one year when, “as we were marching down the street, there was a gentleman in a wheelchair who saw the flags coming and wanted to stand up. His daughter was next to him and she went to help him. But he struggled to stand up on his own. He was going to do it by himself. It was an incredible thing, done out of pride and the respect he had for his flag and his country. Then I saw a woman who was probably well into her 80s, saluting the flag, with tears running down her face. I'm sure she had lost somebody in her family. Remember why we celebrate this day, because it really matters.”

For the past two years, Detering has been leading 10-day trips through the Grand Canyon for groups of younger veterans. He spoke about his experiences on the “Grand Canyon Warriors” and how the journeys have made a difference for veterans and their families.

After getting suggestions from military organizations about who would most benefit from the trip, veterans dealing with physical injuries, brain injuries or PTSD were selected. “We took veterans who had been through very similar experiences. There were no outsiders – just veterans,” Detering said. “We had no agenda. When the veterans were in a group they were comfortable with, they opened up and talked about their problems. They talked about guilt, suicide, the inability to adjust at home.”

Two years ago, the group was welcomed by a group of Hopi Native Americans who were on a spiritual quest through the canyon at the same time. “One of the veterans in our group said, 'Thank you for letting us be on your river,'” Detering said. That led to a bonding experience between the two groups. The two groups camped near each other, and the next morning, one of the Hopi men, Marvin, met with the veterans.

“He told our young Marines to leave their demons behind, and to fill themselves with what's good in life,” Detering said. “He said to take all that was bad inside them and leave it in the river to be washed away. I had no idea what an impact Marvin's words would have on our guys for the rest of the trip.”

Last year, Marvin requested a meeting with the veterans at the beginning of the trip and blessed them on their journey. The trips – which include rigorous whitewater rafting and hiking – are challenging, both physically and emotionally.

“I've been asked if these trips work,” Detering said. He read a letter from the wife of one of the veterans, who wrote that, “This trip has not only saved his life, but it has saved our family,” Detering read. “That's why we did it. I'm pretty sure it works very well.”

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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