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Remembering the sacrifice of our veterans

November 11, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

BOONSBORO - People riding along San Mar Road in southern Washington County may or may not even notice the small rectangular marker atop the green road signs at the intersection with Mount Lena Road.

But the family of Elvin E. Stouffer knows it's there, and they are proud and thankful for the efforts of the members of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County who put it there.

Elvin was 22 years old when he was killed in the South Pacific in 1944, said his brother, Fayette Stouffer.

"I was 15 when we got the news - a minister brought a telegram to the house," he said.

Born to Ernest and Lottie Stouffer in 1921, Elvin grew up in a log cabin with his six brothers and sisters right across the road from the home where Fayette Stouffer now resides.

The family eventually learned that Elvin was the tail gunner on a plane known as The Avenger, which flew three missions on March 30, 1944, taking off and landing on the Lexington, an aircraft carrier stationed in the South Pacific.

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"On the third mission, the plane drew anti-aircraft fire from the ground," Fayette Stouffer said. When the plane landed on the carrier, Elvin had been wounded, and later died of his injuries.

He was buried at sea.

Elvin's name is on a plaque on display in Manila, Philippines, as well as on a monument at Mount Lena United Methodist Church memorializing all deceased veterans who lived in the Beaver Creek/Mount Lena area.

"Our parents were really sad when they got the news," Fayette Stouffer said. "It changed the whole family, but especially mom and dad."

To Fayette Stouffer, Elvin was his big brother.

"We did a lot of things together - I looked up to him," he said.

While still a young man, Elvin used his musical talents, playing trombone and marching with the Hagerstown Municipal Band and the Boonsboro Town Band as well as the Harmony Band in Myersville, Md.

Elvin also helped his brother with his arithmetic, Fayette Stouffer recalled, although Elvin's own educational experiences were cut short by circumstances.

"Elvin didn't go to high school - he was the second oldest and he worked on a farm," said his sister, Vivian Stouffer Van Voorhis.

Just 18 when her brother died, Van Voorhis remembers that Elvin always was happy and nice to be around when they were growing up.

In addition to his farm work, Elvin also worked as a handyman in Hagerstown. And for a while, he raised baby chicks and rabbits at the family home to raise money.

Van Voorhis also remembers her brother loved to go fishing in Beaver Creek.

"I went with Elvin at night to Hagerstown City Park, where we would catch night crawlers," she said. "I held the flashlight."

Fayette Stouffer said Elvin often swam in Antietam Creek when they were boys. When Elvin joined the Navy, he wrote to his family that he was swimming, this time in the Pacific Ocean.

"Some would swim and others would stand watch ... and shoot sharks," Fayette Stouffer said.

In addition to Elvin, Fayette and Vivian Van Voorhis, the Stouffer siblings also include Mildred Hogan, Marvin and Charles, and the eldest, Vernon, who is deceased.

On this Veterans Day, the family members are remembering their own lost loved one as are about 300 other Washington County families. Like the Stouffers, most of those families have commemorative markers affixed on road signs.

"It was my idea," said Peter Callas, a longtime member of the council. He said it started at the Washington County Courthouse one Memorial Day, when he made a presentation where he talked about the actual men who died in combat.

On that day in the mid-1980s, Callas said he wanted to make the speech different.

"I knew these men I talked about - Bob Wagner, Tony Pappas, Bill Altenderfer Sr., Andy Schnebly ... we all went to school together," he said.

A U.S. Navy veteran of World War II and Korea, Callas said that personalizing the information to the people in the audience that day had quite an effect on the families of those he spoke.

"And I talked about the contributions those veterans would have made if they hadn't been killed in wars," Callas said.

From there, Callas and the other council members made it their project to personally commemorate each and every Washington County veteran who died in combat.

Each time a marker was planned, Callas and others on the council worked closely with the families. The markers would be placed close to where the veteran had lived or worked, and ceremonies would accompany each installation.

Last spring, the family of Richard W. Huntzberry gathered along Downsville Pike for a ceremony when his marker was dedicated.

His sister, Edna Huntzberry Heffner, said the experience was memorable and brought back many memories.

Just 15 when her brother shipped out in 1943, Heffner said she remembers thinking then that she never would see him again, and she didn't.

Huntzberry was killed in action in Italy in September 1944.

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