The Voice of West Virginia
(Editor’s note: This is a commentary I wrote a few years ago and post every year on Independence Day.)
John Adams’s letter to his wife Abigail was filled with enthusiasm, but also carried a tone of foreboding. It was July 1776 and revolution was in the air among the delegates at the meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Adams recognized, as did others at the gathering, that a course of events had been set in motion that would lead either to independence and a new nation or a brutal response by the British of the revolt that may well cost the patriots their lives.
Adams wrote that the “Hopes of reconciliation…have been gradually and at last totally extinguished.” Independence from England had been declared. “This will cement the union,” Adams wrote.
The cost of independence would be great. “I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these states,” Adams wrote. Even as he finished the letter that day British troops were landing at Staten Island.
Long Island and White Plains, New York as well at Fort Washington, New York and Fort Lee, New Jersey would fall before the end of the year. The lone bright spot of the 1776 campaign would be General Washington’s bold Christmas crossing of the Delaware River and the defeat of the Hessians in Trenton.
Still, Adams was a devout patriot who remained optimistic about the outcome. That July day he wrote, “Through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means.”
He must have had confidence in the ultimate outcome because he wrote how Independence Day would be the “most memorable…in the history of America.”
Adams accurately predicted the tone of future celebrations when he said that Independence Day should be “solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews (shows), games, sports, guns, bells, bonfire and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
Today we know that to be the case as we prepare to mark another Independence Day with the modern-day versions of just what Adams wrote about. Of course, many of us have now changed the name of the day of celebration to The Fourth of July, the day regarded as America’s birthday.
But Adams’ letter that I have just quoted from was dated July 3rd, 1776. The day before, July 2nd, the Continental Congress adopted Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence.
Two days later, on July 4th, the Continental Congress would approve the actual document, the Declaration of Independence
John Adams was right about the time for the colonies to unite and split from England. He was right about the cost of independence in “toil, blood and treasure.” But Adams believed the celebrations by future generations of the historic day when this great nation was born would be not on July 4th, but two days earlier.
He wrote to Abigail it would be “The Second day of July 1776 (that) will be the most memorable…in the history of America.”
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Friends and family of Hershel “Woody” Williams came together on Sunday to honor the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, noting his friendship and dedication to helping others.
Multiple people spoke during a service for Williams, who died last Wednesday at 98. Williams received the Medal of Honor for his efforts during the Battle of Iwo Jima, and he spent his later years advocating for families whose loved ones died in military combat.
“He lived a life of truth, service, love and compassion,” Williams’ daughter Tracie Ross said. “He spent much of his life finding ways to help others. I pray that each of us follows in his example and continue to make the world a better place because that’s what he did.”
Ross was among the speakers who described their personal connection to Williams; Gov. Jim Justice called him a friend, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke about how Williams often reached out to the senator with a list of recommendations and assignments.
“I’m going to miss Woody as much as this family misses him, as much as all of you miss him,” Manchin said.
“I’ll miss the phone calls, I’ll miss the directions I was given, how I was supposed to vote,” the senator added with a chuckle. “And when I didn’t, how I made a mistake.”
Williams served on the Pacific front of World War II. As a corporal in the U.S. Marines, Williams destroyed several Japanese machine gun stations during the Battle of Iwo Jima. He received the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military award recognizing those individuals who commit acts of valor — in October 1945.
“If you read the citation for his Medal of Honor, there’s one word that Woody, if he could re-write that citation, he would re-write it. Because it said ‘alone,'” Gen. David Berger, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, said. “He resented that word because he believed in his Corps.”
Berger noted Williams always referred to himself as “just a farm boy from West Virginia.”
“Woody may be the most genuine person I’ve ever met. He had a way of combining his incredible humility with just a powerful sense of humor,” he said. “The two of them together allowed him to connect with anyone.”
Williams retired from the Marines after 20 years. He worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for 33 years as a veterans service representative.
The U.S. Navy honored Williams in October 2017 with the christening and naming of a ship in his honor, now bearing the name the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams. The U.S. Navy commissioned the ship in March 2020. The Department of Veterans Affairs ramed the Huntington VA medical facility to honor Williams in 2018.
Williams’ efforts during his later years focused on raising awareness about gold star families — the relatives of family members who died in combat. According to the Woody Williams Foundation, there are more than 100 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments located in all 50 states in part because of the organization’s efforts.
“I don’t think he served others the rest of life because he received the Medal of Honor,” Berger said. “He did it — all those things — because that’s who Woody was.”
Manchin recalled the multiple motorcycle rides raising funds for the gold star monuments.
“Mind you, we ride a little bit hard at times. But if you think I ride hard, you ought to ride with Woody in that Slingshot,” he said. “I mean, he was hell on wheels.”
Williams’ body lay in state at West Virginia’s Capitol building Saturday and part of Sunday. Hundreds of people visited the state Capitol to say their final good-byes.
One of Williams’ requests to Manchin during their years of friendship was ensuring the last Medal of Honor recipient would lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
Manchin and West Virginia’s congressional delegation have spent the last week urging congressional leaders to grant the honor to Williams. The senator received a call Sunday morning confirming Williams will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, although a specific date was not announced.
“That was one of his last wishes,” Manchin said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced the plans following the memorial service.
“When Woody lies in honor under the Capitol Dome, it will be with immense gratitude for his service that the Congress will pay tribute to this legendary hero — and all of the patriots who fought for our nation in World War II,” Pelosi said.
Following the memorial service, guests placed a wreath at the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument near the state Capitol. A group of Marines additionally fired a 21-gun salute to honor Williams.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Monongalia County Commission will donate $300,000 towards the Your Community Foundation of North Central West Virginia’s $1 Million Match Campaign.
The donation, will establish the Monongalia County IMPACT Fund, which will be used to help fund various scholarships and programs that would directly benefit county residents. With the donation, Mon County Commission becomes the first county commission to directly donate towards the campaign.
YCF President Patty Showers-Ryan said the commission is first to step up.
“Not only that, but at $300,000,” she said.
The Monongalia County IMPACT Fund, will operate much like other IMPACT Funds operated by YCF. The unrestricted endowment fund, will use funds donated by a particular group to invest with the help of a full-time staff of investors which would then use the funds for needs directed as part of the donation.
“It will be unrestricted, so it will allow them to fund opportunities that don’t come up through their normal funding process,” Monongalia County Commissioner Sean Sikora said. ” So, it allows then to be more nimble and address real-time issues.”
The donation will allow for a separate $300,000 match to be directed towards the YCF IMPACT Fund, which directly benefits five North Central West Virginia counties. Much like the Monongalia County IMPACT Fund, YCF’s separate IMPACT Fund will invest donated funds that can then be used for residents in Preston, Marion and other counties neighboring or are nearby Monongalia County.
“This is a great benefit to our citizens,” Sikora said. “We can take dollars and double those dollars and have those dollars help our citizens and our regional citizens.”
The total amount donated is now $640,000. The $1 Million Match Campaign, started by an anonymous donor, will continue until Dec. 31, 2022, or until the $1 million goal is met. With the commission’s donation, the hope is that their decision will encouraged other donars and fellow county commissions to follow suit.
“We wanted to step up and challenge the other county commissions and municipalities to also step up and take advantage of this great opportunity,” Sikora said.
Your Community Foundation serves Monongalia, Harrison, Marion, Preston, and Taylor counties.
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RIPLEY, W.Va. — The town of Ripley is preparing to host its annual 4th of July parade Monday.
The event is known as West Virginia’s oldest and largest July 4 parade. It includes live musical entertainment from the stage on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn, a carnival and food concessions.
Ripley has expanded its celebration to include a week of family activities. The parade starts at 12 p.m. with fireworks at 10 p.m. Monday.
Mike Ruben, director of the Ripley Convention and Visitors Bureau, said people from all across the state come out each year to celebrate America’s history.
“It’s such a tradition here. Not only do we welcome thousands of people from out of town, but it’s a gigantic homecoming for people who used to live in the community, but have moved away for one reason or another,” Ruben said.
Families take their place along the parade route, sometimes in the same spot each year.
“If you walk along the parade route, you’ll see the same families standing in the same areas for generations. They just gather there and it’s like a family reunion that takes place during the 4th of July parade,” Ruben said.
The parade marshal this year is retiring Jackson County Schools Superintendent Blaine Hess.
Last year’s parade marshal was Medal of Honor recipient and World War II veteran Hershel “Woody” Williams. Ruben expressed sorrow and grief back on Wednesday when Williams died at the age of 98.
“He made such a wonderful statement as he was up here on stage during the opening ceremonies of the 4th of July celebration last year,” Ruben said. “He said ‘I see the true spirit of America here in Ripley. This is America.’ That made us feel so special because he was such a special man.”
President George W. Bush attended the 2002 parade in Ripley and gave a 45 minute address commemorating veterans 20 years ago.
INSTITUTE, W.Va. — Three and-a-half months have passed since a successful season ended in heartbreaking fashion for Logan’s boys basketball team when Scott’s Reece Carden beat the buzzer to give the Skyhawks a 65-63 win against the Wildcats in a Class AAA quarterfinal.
Considering Logan entered the contest as the No. 2 seed in Class AAA and with three lopsided wins against Scott earlier in the season, it was an ending the Wildcats never envisioned.
“It hasn’t left my mind since we lost,” said Logan head coach Zach Green, a Scott graduate. “We don’t want to focus on the past, but it’s something we’re not going to forget. I can promise you, when the ball tips against Scott in the regular season, those guys aren’t going to forget what happened at the state tournament.
“Looking at the big picture, we have four starters back. That was invaluable experience. Even though we lost, to be in that situation gave us a huge building block going into this season.”
LHS is anything but short on motivation this summer after bowing out in its state tournament opener to finish 23-3.
The good news, as Green alluded to, is the core of the team remains intact. Each of Logan’s four double-figure scorers in the season-ending setback — guards Scotty Browning and Garrett Williamson and forwards Aiden Slack and Jaxon Cogar — enters their senior season.
The latter three are football players, meaning they had to balance being on the gridiron and hardwood over the three-week period. Logan was rather busy for those three weeks and participated in team camps at Marshall, University of Charleston, University of Pikeville (Ky.) and Georgetown College (Ky.), in addition to playing three games last Thursday at the Red & Black Athletic Club Shootout hosted by St. Albans at West Virginia State.
“We try to focus on skill development the most,” Green said. “Getting better as players, from top to bottom, is what we try to do during the three-week period. That, and we really try to play a lot of tough competition. We played 23 games, so we played a full season schedule in about a month, and it’s been really good for our guys.
“We have a bunch of guys playing football and baseball and it’s given our younger guys and role guys an opportunity to get a lot of playing time, and put them in a lot of different situations that I think is going to benefit us in the long run.”
Adding depth to where Green is more comfortable utilizing reserves in critical situations has been a primary focus of the Wildcats’ coach. In the season-ending loss to Scott, Cogar, Williamson, Slack and Browning combined for all but six of the Wildcats’ points, while then-senior Jackson Tackett had a team-high 11 rebounds.
“Evaluating last season, as the season went on we thought that our bench wasn’t as strong as we want it to be,” Green said. “We really wanted to focus this summer on putting those guys in a lot of bigger roles and situations to try and help them grow, and we’ve seen a lot of growth.”
Additionally, Green wanted his team to face quality competition, something the Wildcats certainly did in the event at WVSU by facing defending Class AAAA runner-up Parkersburg South, defending Class AAA runner-up Shady Spring and Winfield.
“I don’t think you’re going to get better if you’re not playing guys who are going to challenge you,” Green said. “If you’re going out and beating teams by 30, you’re wasting everybody’s time. Being here, especially while we’re down guys, it really challenges our younger guys and puts them in tough spots. It’s been great for us.”
The Wildcats did have Browning and Williamson on hand at WVSU. The 5-foot-11 Browning is a returning first-team all-state guard who averaged just north of 15 points last season, while Williamson, at 6-3, was a second-team all-state pick as a junior.
“There is a solid foundation led by Garrett Williamson and Scottie Browning, who are not only tremendous players, but they’re tremendous young men and they’re tremendous leaders for us,” Green said. “They kind of set the tone in everything that we do. We’ve had great attendance out of those two guys for four years. They show up and work hard.
“What they’re also great at, they’re going to put guys in their place. If our young guys aren’t where they’re supposed to be, Garrett Williamson is going to tell them where they need to be. He’s our leader. Scottie’s done a much better job being vocal this offseason and that’s a role that he’s kind of growing into. We’re excited.”
BUCKHANNON, W.Va. — This time next year, thousands of visitors from across the globe will travel to Upshur County to attend the World Association of Marching Show Bands 2023 competition.
Buckhannon has been selected to host the event July 17-24, 2023 on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Cities throughout the state placed bids to hold what is known as the “Superbowl of Marching Bands,” and Buckhannon was the winner.
“The bands can come from high schools, colleges or, in most cases, community bands. I like to compare it to New Orleans. There’s always a street party. There’s always a great band that you stop whatever you’re doing when the band goes by,” said Randy Sanders, president of the WAMSB 2023 Buckhannon Host Committee.
Sanders told MetroNews the economic impact from a festival like this will be huge for the city and the state, providing local leaders the opportunity to showcase West Virgina’s tourism industry.
“It’s not just because we have beautiful mountains and beautiful clean water with our rivers, it’s beautiful people,” he said.
Visitors to the week-long event will be staying in the region’s hotels and motels and will have the opportunity to visit shops, restaurants and take part in different recreation opportunities across the state, Sanders said.
“We hope to take it a step further and maybe build some relationships for future economic development with folks who maybe want to do some business in West Virginia,” he said.
A total of 47 bands from 24 nations have submitted applications to compete for the world championship in areas of marching performance, jazz, symphonic, percussion, auxiliary dance and more.
Ahead of next year’s event, the City of Buckhannon has contributed $100,000, while the Harrison County Commission provided $4,000. Dutch Miller Auto Group has contributed $15,000. The National Endowment of the Arts has approved a $10,000 grant.
Sanders said part of their funding will go toward improving the current infrastructure at Ross Field.
“We have to put in place an additional amount of seating at Ross Field. It’s going to take about $150,000 to build the stadium up to the point where we can have adequate seating,” he said.
It will be the second time in 26 years the competition will take place in the United States. The only other time it was held in the U.S. was in 2017 in Palm Springs, Ca.
The 2020 and 2021 world competitions were canceled due to COVID-19.
This year’s event is being held in Thailand.
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LENORE, W.Va. — A woman was killed in a single vehicle crash Saturday in Mingo County.
State police said Mellisa Copley,52, of Delbarton, died after losing control of her vehicle at just before 2:30 p.m. on Laurel Creek Road near Lenore.
Copley was pronounced dead at the scene. The investigation into the crash continues.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The line that zigzagged from the double doors of the west wing of the State Capitol in Charleston Saturday back toward the state Culture Center was made up of people from all walks of life but they had come there for a single purpose–to honor the life Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams who died Wednesday at the age of 98.
Many of them had personal recollections of the one they affectionately called Woody.
Something in common
Barboursville resident Amy West Hogsett had a connection with Woody through her father Ernest West, who received a Medal of Honor for his heroics in Battle of Heartbreak Ridge in the Korean War.
She said her dad and Woody were good friends for years. Ernest lived near Ashland, Kentucky and Woody in Cabell County, about 40 minutes separated their homes. Williams spoke at her father’s funeral in May 2021.
Hogsett said both men were unique, very humble and always wanted to help people.
“They were great friends and did many things together in West Virginia and Kentucky. They were just ordinary people,” she said.
As she looked behind her in line Saturday she said she was sure there were many others who had either a brief meeting or long relationship with Woody that just wanted to come see him one last time.
“There are many stories, story after story after story,” she said. “Woody would sit down and have lunch with you or a cup of coffee with you or have breakfast with you and talk to you and make you feel like a million dollars.”
A new friend later in life
Near Hogsett in line was Albert McClelland of Indiana. He’ll turn 88 later this month. He was in his dress blue uniform of the Coast Guard where he served in intelligence for more than two decades, He was a Senior Chief Petty Officer. He met Woody at a Marine Corps League breakfast last year. McClelland said he asked Williams to describe his life from the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima until now.
“He opened up to me and said, ‘no one has ever asked me that before,'” McClelland said.
He said after a long discussion the two agreed to meet again but it never happened.
“I was looking forward to it but we didn’t do it,” McClelland said. “Woody Williams was a genuine human being and I’m here to honor him.”
A few minutes later McClelland was moved to the front of the line to walk before Woody’s flag-draped casket in the Lower Rotunda of the capitol. He raised his right hand slowly in salute.
“It was a religious experience,” he told MetroNews choking back tears. “An expression of principle, morality and brotherly love and I was very happy to be able to share that with a man that exuded all of that.”
Woody’s Kentucky friend
Louisville, Kentucky resident Alison Porter got to the capitol early Saturday. She’s known Woody Williams for about a dozen years and still shakes her head when she thinks back to how the two met.
Porter said it was 2010 and preparations were underway in Louisville for the Medal of Honor National Convention. She went to a planning meeting and saw an older man standing to the side. Porter, a retired Marine who had just become part of the Marine Corps League, introduced herself to Woody and they talked for several minutes but he never told her he had received a Medal of Honor. She found out later that day and said Woody had a big laugh about it and they were friends ever since bumping into each other occasionally.
Woody called Porter his “Kentucky friend.”
“He was one of the most truest down to earth person I think I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Porter said, noting how genuine Williams was. “He didn’t act, he reacted. Same thing in World War II, he didn’t act, he reacted.”
Porter described Williams as being “a superstar without being a superstar.”
There’s one story Porter said she’ll never forget it happened at a Marine Corps Convention in Greenup, Kentucky.
“We were standing around and someone said, ‘Woody you don’t have your medal on.’ So he reaches into his red coat pocket and the ribbon is running through is fingers and he looks at me and says, ‘I can’t think of anybody better.'”
Porter said she was shocked that Woody Williams wanted her to help him put his Medal of Honor around his neck. She completed the task and said Saturday it’s something she’ll never forget.
“I’m standing there holding a Congressional Medal of Honor–his. I felt like I was going to drop it I was shaking so bad. I was able to put it on him,” she said.
Porter and others filed past the casket Saturday as two Marines stood at attention. The casket will be guarded by the Marines through both days of public visitation that will continue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. The funeral service is set for Sunday at 4 p.m. at the state Culture Center.
An emotional ride to Charleston
On the way to the capitol Saturday from Huntington, there were hundreds of residents standing on overpasses and along highways to honor Williams.
Those gathered said they wanted to show their respect and honor a real hero.
The long procession included several hundred veterans riding their motorcycles.
Williams is only the third West Virginia to lie in state at the state capitol in the history of the state. U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (2010) and Congressman John Kenna (1893) are the only other ones to do so. Kenna’s body was at the former state capitol building that was at the corner of Lee and Capitol streets in downtown Charleston.
The governor’s office has announced some updates to Sunday’s funeral service.
10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Public visitation in Lower Rotunda
2:15 p.m. U.S. Marines Casket March
2:45 p.m. Marine Flyover (weather permitting)
3:00 p.m. Doors open at Culture Center for memorial service (limited seating)
4:00 p.m. – 5 p.m. State Memorial Service
5:00 p.m. Wreath ceremony, taps and gun salute at Gold Star Family Monument, state capitol grounds
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Morgantown residents are invited to celebrate Independence Day at Hazel Ruby McQuain Park.
The Morgantown Municipal Band will provide early entertainment on July Fourth, and the holiday festivities will wrap up with a patriotic celebration.
The Morgantown Municipal Band will set up to perform an assortment of patriotic standards at 11 a.m. Monday. John Hendricks, the former West Virginia University director of bands and current Associate Dean of the College of Creative Arts, will direct the band.
Monday will mark the band’s 31st Independence Day performance. The group’s set will include songs from composers John Philip Sousa, Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. The Morgantown Municipal Band concert is free and will take place regardless of the weather.
Vincent Kitch, Morgantown’s director of arts and cultural development, said the celebration will continue at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheater; it will be scheduled similarly to a free Friday night concert event. The gates and food trucks will open Monday at 5 p.m.
“The Tim Litvin Band [performs] at 6:30 p.m., doing some country and country-rock,” Kitch said. “We’re going to have a performance by the Motown Strutters, who are a mature lady’s tap dance organization. They do an entire salute to the military.”
The celebration will continue with favorite groups from the recent Morgantown Music Festival. The event will conclude with a patriotic fireworks display at 10 p.m.
Video: Nitro vs Fairmont Senior (2021 Class AAA Girl’s State Championship)
A showdown between two top girls basketball talent in the state met on the big stage as Nitro’s Baylee Goins and Fairmont Senior’s Marley Washenitz squared off.
Goins and the Wildcats jumped to an early lead, but the Polar Bears would march back. Late in the second quarter, Goins went down with a horrible leg injury, and Nitro was without their leading scorer.
We saw triumphs, players stepping up, and stories that will live on forever.
Audio: Greenbrier East vs Bridgeport (2012 Class AAA Girl’s State Championship)
It had been over 30 years since the Greenbrier East girl’s team won a state title. The Lady Spartans came close in 2004 but lost to a loaded South Charleston team.
The Bridgeport Lady Indians seemed to be the clear-cut favorite to win the state tournament. Still, Greenbrier East took care of business, holding Bridgeport to its lowest point total that tournament.
Now-Governor Jim Justice and the Lady Spartans won the state final, 52-47.
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