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Chester County Press

A day to remember all who served

11/10/2014 09:51AM ● By J. Chambless

Veteran Dusty Rhodes, 94, with Rep. Stephen Barrar at the luncheon on Nov. 7

By John Chambless

Staff Writer

In a room decked out in festive red, white and blue, veterans came to the Kennett Area Senior Center on Nov. 7 to remember what they did in service to our country, as well as the sacrifices made by countless others.

The annual Veterans Luncheon is the biggest event of the year at the senior center, and a large crowd of veterans and family members turned out on Friday morning for a program that opened with the presentation of the flag by members of the American Legion Post 491 Color Guard. Students from Patton Middle School lined up on stage to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and a medley of patriotic songs. During one song, they called on members of different branches of the armed services to stand and be recognized. Several people in the audience wiped away tears as the young students sang.

In the crowd was Dusty Rhodes, 94, of Avondale, who was wearing the same uniform he wore during his service in World War II. He was a member of a patrol squadron that flew missions from Newfoundland to Columbia and back, searching for enemy submarines.

"As soon as Roosevelt said we were at war, I was up in the Poconos working for a senator up there who had business," Rhodes said. "I went home and told my mother I was going to join the Navy. I was 20. She said, 'Why don't you wait until you're drafted, because your brother's in Hawaii.' My brother was in Pearl Harbor, and he saw a bomb go down the smokestack of the Arizona."

As for his own time in the service, "I thank the good Lord that we didn't get shot at, and we didn't kill anybody," Rhodes said. "We were just to report the location of any submarines we found."

Working with radar, sonar and searchlights, Rhodes and his fellow crew members scanned thousands of miles of ocean. His brother is 93 and still living, Rhodes said, and he has an older sister as well. "I thank the Lord I can still get around," he said.

Anita O'Connor, the executive director of the senior center, greeted the veterans in the room and said, "You embody everything honorable and good about the United States." She then introduced Rep. Stephen Barrar, who helped sponsor the event.

Barrar, who served in the Navy, said his father was a World War II veteran. "I've met lots of veterans, and it's so important to talk about our service, so we never forget," Barrar said. "Yes, our nation has some scars, but the history of our country is a great one. It's important to tell our children our stories."

The guest speaker was retired Lt. Col. Henry Detering, a former principal of Octorara High School, who served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. He thanked the middle schoolers who sang, calling them the highlight of the program.

"There's a disparity of age between you young people and us old guys," Detering said. "Today's students are not raised the way we were. The vast majority of Americans have no connection to war. But look around you," he told the students. "The gentlemen who served were almost the same age you are when they served."

When Detering served, he said, "almost everybody had a family member in the service, or knew someone who had a family member killed. Today, people write 'Dear Soldier' letters, and that's wonderful, but it's impersonal."

In a decade of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 5,000 service men and women have been killed, Detering told the audience. In World War II, there were some 418,000 Americans killed. "Our losses have been reduced," he said, "and our citizens are removed from the conflict. There are people in this room who have experienced things you cannot imagine. There are people in this room who gave up years of their lives in service. And we all know someone who made the ultimate sacrifice."

"There has been no battle in this country since the Civil War," Detering added, "and we don't ever want that to happen again."

As a teacher and principal, he said, "I have spoken to a lot of students and found out they want to know our stories." He addressed the middle schoolers again, saying, "Remember what I told you today, and help the people in your lives learn about why we celebrate this day."

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, e-mail [email protected].