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Veterans' ranks few, but proud in Pa. county

November 11, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - As of Sept. 30, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs listed 3,581,473 surviving veterans of World War II.

One of them was laid to rest Wednesday.

After the Charles Nitterhouse VFW Post 1599 Honor Guard cracked off a 21-gun salute with their M-1 Garand rifles and Dr. Joseph Strite sounded Taps, Gerald Rosenberry and Chuck Lucas folded the American flag that covered Frank L. Keefer's casket into a tight triangle. George Gearhart, the captain of the guard, then placed three .30-caliber shell casings between the folds.

"One for duty. One for honor. One for country," Gearhart said. The flag then was presented to Keefer's family.

Keefer, 82, who served in the U.S. Army in Europe during the war, died in his sleep Sunday at his Fort Loudon, Pa., home, said his sister, Edna Funk of Upton, Pa. A carpenter, he still liked to work about 20 hours a week and had done so up to the day before he died, she said.

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Four of her brothers served in the war and all came back alive, Funk said. "There's none of them living now," she said after the service at Parklawns Memorial Gardens.

Keefer was a member of a dwindling fraternity and sorority of men and women who once numbered 16.3 million, including the more than 407,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who died in the war, according to department records.

On average, about five veterans die every week in Franklin County, according to Bob Harris, director of the county's Office of Veterans Affairs.

Harris estimated that there are 2,500 World War II veterans in the county, another 1,200 from the Korean War and about 2,800 Vietnam War-era veterans. About 10 percent of county residents, 13,262 men and women, are veterans, he said.

Their families do not always request a military honor guard, but Gearhart said his unit attended services for 121 veterans this year.

Friday, the honor guard will conduct graveside military honors for Carl L. Blair, 80, of Chambersburg, who died Monday. Blair was wounded at Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings, Gearhart said.

This Veterans Day, the guard will cover a lot of ground, beginning with the parade in Chambersburg in the morning. Guard members will go to Wal-Mart for another ceremony, visit a nursing home in Waynesboro, Pa., and a service at Letterkenny Army Depot, Gearhart said.

Among the 15 honor guard members at Keefer's graveside service, nine served during World War II. The honor guard roster includes 29 names, most of them senior citizens.

"Young guys can't get off from work to go to these," said 81-year-old Wilbur Kennedy. He and Rosenberry have been with the guard since it was established in 1947 and said they have attended thousands of veterans' funerals.

At 88, Paul Kriner is the oldest. He spent 517 days in combat in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany with an artillery battalion that was variously attached to the 5th, 7th and 3rd armies.

Kriner said one member of the unit kept a day-by-day tally of how many rounds the battalion fired in the war - 148,722. He still wears his old uniform comfortably and wore it last week when several veterans spoke at an AARP meeting.

Lucas, 62, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, was the youngest guard member at Keefer's service.

"Satisfaction may not be the right word," Lucas said of why he joined the unit two years ago.

"It's an obligation, really," he said.

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