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'A hero in their midst'

Article Published: Nov. 12, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'A hero in their midst'

Members of the Appalachian State University ROTC Pershing Rifles march in the colors during the Veterans Day celebration on Wednesday at the Boone Mall.

Photo by Mark Mitchell

Watauga veterans were honored by about 200 people who gathered in the Boone Mall Wednesday for a Veterans Day ceremony.

George Brudzinski, chairman of the board of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and a military veteran, said the event was a remembrance of those who had served in times of need and an appreciation of their service, sacrifices and separation from their families.

Tony di Santi, a local attorney who earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart in Vietnam, shared a story of William Crawford, a janitor at the Air Force academy in Colorado. The cadets paid little attention to Crawford, who did his job and kept to himself. One of the cadets discovered a newspaper account of Crawford's heroic actions during World War II and their attitudes changed toward him.

When approached about the article, Crawford said, "It was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago," but the cadets recognized "a hero in their midst."

di Santi said Crawford also changed, holding himself straighter and connecting more with the cadets, serving as a friend and mentor. Crawford had earned a Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II by attacking enemy machine-gun nests in Italy. He was captured and spent 18 months in a German prison camp.

di Santi said there were lessons in the story. "Be cautious of labels," he told the audience. "Everyone deserves respect."

He said courtesy made a difference and added, "Take time to know the people you work with. Who are the heroes in your midst?"

He said leaders should be humble, and perseverance was important. "Do not pursue glory, pursue excellence," he said. "Life is a leadership laboratory."

David Faulkner, commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, said there was a perception that the area was liberal and didn't support the military. "Seeing events like this are really moving," he said. "It never ceases to amaze me. There is support out there, even if you don't always see it."

Bob Snyder, a Blowing Rock veteran of the U.S. Army's 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, said he attended to remember and honor the friends who died in World War II.

"We lost a lot of people," he said of his service in the Pacific Theater. "I take this time to remember them and the families they left behind. I give thanks for this great nation and the freedom we have in religion, speech and political preference."

Kathy Wiggins brought her son and a young friend to the ceremony, wanting to give them exposure to veterans.

"We wanted to talk to veterans," she said. "Both are interested in history, and who better to talk to than the people that were involved? I'd like to make it a little more real than what they can learn from video games."

Organizations represented included The Veterans of Foreign Wars, The High Country Military Officers Association, Disabled American Veterans, the 1451st Transportation Company of the N.C. National Guard, The Marine Corps League and the Appalachian State University Reserve Officer Training Corps.

The Watauga Community Band performed, ringing 11 chimes to commemorate Armistice Day and the end of World War I.

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