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Pa. service honors veterans and their efforts

November 12, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Shaniqua R. Peterson, 13, hesitated just a moment before leaning in to hug the 84-year-old man seated in front of her.

The girl expressed thanks as she and retired Army Sgt. Jim Hammond embraced.

As she pulled away, her fingers lingered on the Purple Heart affixed to Hammond's chest while he explained the meaning behind some of his many medals.

"I felt kind of in awe because the soldiers, all they went through, inspires me," Shaniqua said.

Shaniqua shared her desire to join the Marine Corps with Hammond, who was among 47 current and past members of the military honored during a Community Veterans Day Celebration Service held Sunday.

The pastor at Christian Life Assembly of God took time to recognize each member of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Air Force. The Rev. Joe Pickens paused when he reached Hammond in the line, saying he talked to the Shippensburg, Pa.-area man earlier in the week and knew he had great stories to share.

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Hammond talked briefly about his 1,227 days as a prisoner of war, the death march he survived and his decision to re-enlist.

"I survived the atomic bomb dropping on Hiroshima," Hammond said. "I was 40 kilometers from that."

He talked to Shaniqua, of Williamson, Pa., about the willpower he saw within her.

"That's what got me through it: willpower and the good man above," Hammond said.

He described youths' desire to serve as "encouraging" and said services like the fourth annual one at Christian Life Assembly of God are emotional.

"I have tears in my eyes," Hammond said.

The color guard from Charles Nitterhouse VFW Post 1599 was represented at the church service, a wreath-laying ceremony at Chambersburg Memorial YMCA and the annual service at Letterkenny Army Depot.

"It just honors the many men and women who have served," Post Commander Charles Lucas said.

While Memorial Day traditionally honors the fallen, Veterans Day focuses more on those still alive, Lucas said.

That includes the more than 1,400 VFW members in his post, which is one of the largest in the country, he said.

"We don't have any Iraq veterans, but that will come," Lucas said.

The YMCA for the first time hosted an open house and special events for veterans and their families on Veterans Day, said Carole Conner, vice president of the board.

The early founders of the local YMCA were World War II veterans, and the building was dedicated in part to them.

"We wanted to do something for the veterans and the community," Conner said.

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