Military veterans honored

January 30, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM


Watching the honor guard enter the social hall Sunday afternoon, Goldie McAbee remembered how her husband held the flag and how his legs looked as he marched.

McAbee, of Hagerstown, said her husband, Robert F. McAbee, was proud of his service on the honor guard at William D. Byron Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1936.

But on Sunday, Goldie watched two other men march into the VFW social hall at the beginning of a service to honor the 32 post members and six members of the VFW's ladies auxiliary who died in 2005.


Robert McAbee, who served in the U.S. Navy and served in World War II, died July 16, at 79.

"(My husband) would have been really proud," said McAbee, a member of the ladies auxiliary.

Her husband was a VFW life member and a past commander.

Charles Batt, the post chaplain, said each year the post honors 30 to 40 members at the memorial service. Members ring a bell once for each member who passed away. Each deceased member's name is written on a piece of paper and placed into a World War II helmet. The paper is burned, and each of the 100 members in the social hall Sunday sat silently waiting for the fire to die down.

"It's to symbolize they have gone to the post everlasting," Batt said. "If you are a member of the VFW, you go to the post everlasting."

Ruth Bender and her family traveled from their home in Aberdeen, Md., to remember Bender's father at the VFW service.

Her father, Louis D. Sestak of Hagerstown, served in World War II. He was 86 when he died March 11.

"I thought (the memorial service) was very moving," Bender said.

While her father seldom spoke about the war, she said he stormed the beach during the Battle of Normandy (France).

"When he landed there, guys on both sides of him died," Bender said.

She said Sestak told her that he enlisted to serve for six months and stayed for four years.

"He saw a lot of action," she said.

Batt and post Commander Albert Rauth said as more World War II veterans die, they are struggling to fill their vacancies at the VFW. All but four of the post members who died in 2005 served in World War II.

Younger veterans are not filling the spots vacated by older vets, Rauth said. He believes last year the post recruited about 20 members.

Batt said eight years ago the post had about 1,200 members. That number has fallen to 638.

Before going to Sunday's memorial service, Batt delivered a Bible to the family of a VFW member - and World War II veteran - who died several days ago. The viewing was Sunday. He was the second member to die in 2006.

As the crowd at the post grows increasingly older, Rauth said membership numbers will decline further. At 57, he said he is one of the youngest members.

Sorrelda Welch, 61, of Hagerstown, was there for her mother, Sorrelda McCall, who died March 3, 2005, at 80.

"I thought it was a wonderful service," Welch said.

Her mother was an auxiliary member for about 50 years, and enjoyed supporting the veterans, Welch said.

"I think we need more people to support our veterans," she said. "Without our veterans, where would our country be?"

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