FAYETTEVILLE — They are called the Greatest Generation.
In all, 16 million Americans served their nation and the world during World War II.
According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, a total of 218,665 Mountaineers served during the war — the fifth-highest percentage of a state’s population in the nation.
As of last fall, the Veterans Administration estimated that just shy of half a million WWII veterans are still alive.
“The young guys are 90 (years old) who were in World War II,” said Chris Kappler. “We realize that once their stories are gone, all we’re going to have down is just what’s in recorded history whether it’s a book, movie, or audio recording of somebody telling their story. Once those stories are gone, they are gone.”
Kappler, along with his wife, Cindy, have founded the World War II Living History Foundation, and along with a slew of others, they will host the West Virginia World War II weekend on May 4 in Fayetteville.
While there will be re-enactors in costume, vehicles and other activities, the Kapplers, who operate Wild Blue Adventure, are adamant that the event is a celebration of the remaining WWII veterans and a way that those veterans can share their stories amongst themselves and with the general public.
“These are stories that people need to know about,” Cindy said.
The Kapplers are inviting any and all WWII veterans who can come to the event. They said the veterans will be treated as VIP guests.
“If you want to be in the parade, we have vehicles to put you in the parade,” Cindy said. “If you feel like you just want to come to the tent, talk to other veterans and let people come meet you, you can do that. If you would allow us to recognize you on stage, we can do that.”
Cindy added that there are still so many WWII stories that need to be heard.
While at work at Raleigh General Hospital recently, she was able to meet a local WWII veteran who had volunteered for the service and spent 18 months on the front lines because he wanted to rescue his brother who had become a Prisoner of War.
“There are so many amazing stories out there about our veterans,” Cindy said.
While many of the WWII veterans are no longer with us, she said that people will be surprised at how many are still around.
The festival will also highlight the war effort at home and the Kapplers are inviting anyone who was involved at all in the war effort or has knowledge about that effort to come to participate in the event.
Families of veterans are also invited to share their family member’s story.
“Anybody that has any information, a family story, we just want to let them know this is going on and come and participate,” Cindy added.
Chris was recently loaned a copy of “Young American Patriots,” a large book with portraits and stories about West Virginia WWII veterans from each county.
“This book is as thick as any Bible,” he said, turning through more than 1,300 pages in a yearbook of heroes, adding that other than Veterans and Memorial days, the region doesn’t have any newsworthy events that celebrate the brave men and women of West Virginia who served in WWII.
“It’s such an important war,” Chris said. “All these wars and sacrifices are important, but World War II did so much to shape the modern world we live in.”
World War II veterans interested in riding in World War II-era vehicles during the parade can contact PJ at 304-237-7965 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Veterans interested in taking part in the Meet A Vet Tent can contact Brooke at 304-222-0244.
Any individuals with displays or booths which showcase West Virginia’s role in the war, World War II items, or information supporting World War II vets can contact Ben at 304-640-6236 or email@example.com.
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The event has an incredible array of activities scheduled, according to Maura Kistler, one of the organizers.
Along with the veterans’ tent and the parade, there will be lots of music, including “A Look Back at Pearl Harbor,” performed by the Fayetteville Community Chorus, along with alphorns, a polka quartet, the CODA Mountain Choir performing music from the 1940s-era in Appalachia, big band performances of World War II-era songs by New River Jazz and sessions by the Everley Sisters, who sing songs by the Andrews Sisters.
One of the most exciting parts of the day, according to Kistler, will include a visit from West Virginia Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams. Williams, the only surviving Marine to have earned the Medal of Honor, has spent his life dedicated to his country and his fellow veterans.
“Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams was born on a dairy farm in 1923 in Quiet Dell. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division,” according to the website for the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
“During the battle, Mr. Williams displayed ‘valiant devotion to duty’ and service above self as he ‘enabled his company to reach its objective.’ Mr. Williams’ actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism were recognized on October 5, 1945, when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman at the White House. …
“Mr. Williams’ devotion to duty, service members, veterans and their families began long before that battle and before he entered the Corps. As World War II began, Woody came into direct contact with families in his own community when he delivered Western Union telegrams informing the Gold Star families of the death of their loved one. Woody says that those experiences gave him a ‘greater appreciation for life and an understanding of a difference in death in the normal world as expected in life, and those lost serving in the military for their country.’ He noted that ‘consideration and recognition of the families of those lost in war was very inadequate.’ This observation and his personal commitment to veterans and their families led him to help create the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation in 2012.
“The activities of this foundation allow Mr. Williams to continue his devotion and commitment to those who have served and the Gold Star families who have lost loved ones to that service above self. His foundation is focused on honoring Gold Star Families and their fallen Heroes by establishing Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in communities in all 50 states, offering scholarships to Gold Star Children, sponsoring outreach programs and events, and educating communities about Gold Star Families and the sacrifice they have endured.
“To date, Woody and his foundation are responsible for establishing 47 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with 59 other monuments underway in 42 states. The Foundation continues to grow its reach by being involved in multiple initiatives across the country from Manchester, New Hampshire to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
“Mr. Williams began his military career with a commitment to country, service members, veterans and families. He continues that commitment through his active engagement with local communities in recognizing and commemorating the service and devotion to duty of our service men and women,” the website states.
Williams will address those gathered on Saturday at 11:28 a.m. and then make an appearance at 1:15 p.m. in the food court.
A 1940s fashion show is slated, along with swing dances lessons.
There will be a victory garden and women’s land army display, a display of oxen and baby farm animals related to the state’s self-sufficiency during the war, a food court and biergarten, World War II-decorated windows and a demonstration of victory roll hair and makeup.
World War II reenactors also will be on hand to share their knowledge of boots-on-the-ground action.
Kistler said she’s thrilled for West Virginians’ opportunity to “reclaim our narrative (and) just having another opportunity to thank our veterans.”
Kistler added she is tremendously excited for the event to serve as an educational lesson for those who don’t know what World War II meant to the world, the state and the county.
“It’s about history, dignity, pride and sacrifice,” she said.
“We need to call back that kind of statesmanship and sacrifice. It is an exciting period of our history, the values that our country was built on.”
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The complete day’s schedule is listed below.
West Virginia World War II Festival Schedule
Friday, May 3, 5 p.m. to 12 midnight
5 to 9 p.m. — Themed dinner at The Station
9 p.m. to 12 a.m. — 1940s party at The Southside Junction
Saturday, May 4, 10:15 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
(Rain or shine; rain venue is The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building, 200 W. Maple Ave., Fayetteville; unless otherwise noted activities take place on the Courthouse Stage at Maple and Court streets; all activities are free of charge)
Throughout the day — World War II reenactor demonstrations: Watch as reenactors share their knowledge of boots on the ground aspects of WWII
Throughout the day — Historic WWII windows: Watch around the Fayetteville Town Square for windows filled with fascinating WWII artifacts
Throughout the day — Biergarten, Water Stone Outdoors parking lot: Bridge Brew Works taps great beers brewed especially for WWII Weekend
10:15 a.m. — Parade leaves from Fayetteville High School
10:40 a.m. — Parade arrives at Court House Stage
11 a.m. — Welcome from emcee Gabe Pena
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Victory Garden and Women’s Land Army display outside Wood Iron Eatery, and a display of oxen and baby farm animals speak to West Virginia’s self-sufficiency during the war.
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Fayette County Farmers Market, Court Street, in front of Historic Fayette Theater: Growing our own food again. Fresh spring produce available from area farmers.
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Victory Roll Hair and Makeup Demo outside Cathedral Café: Watch as the models from the fashion show are made glamorous a la the 1940s.
11:05 a.m. — Fayetteville Community Chorus: A Look Back at Pearl Harbor Day
11:25 a.m. — Chris and Cindy Kappler, WWII Weekend WV founders
11:28 a.m. — Woody Williams, remarks from West Virginia World War II Medal of Honor recipient
11:35 a.m. — National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance (Community Chorus and JROTC)
11:40 a.m. — The Everley Sisters sing The Andrews Sisters
12 to 1 p.m. — Meet a vet tent: Come say hello and thank you to West Virginia World War II veterans and their families.
12 to 5 p.m. — Food Court, Courthouse parking lot: Great food booths offer up yummy fare
12:20 p.m. — CODA Mountain Choir: Young musicians with music of 1940s Appalachia
1 p.m. — Dale Jones Polka Quartet: Dance a polka with this lively ensemble
1:15 p.m. — Woody Williams signs Volvo Truck in Food Court
1:45 p.m. — Emcee Gabe Pena: On fun things
2:00 p.m. — The Everley Sisters sing The Andrews Sisters
2:35 p.m. — Victory Roll WWII Fashion Show with authentic alphorns: Live models show off 1940s fashions and uniforms on the Courthouse steps, and a demonstration of alphorns, used in World War II
3:30 p.m. — Dale Jones Polka Band: Dance a polka with this lively ensemble
4:05 p.m. — Swing Dance lesson with Levi: Learn this fun American dance
4:30 p.m. — New River Jazz: 18-piece big band swings with full horn section
5:20 p.m. — The Everley Sisters sing The Andrews Sisters
5:50 p.m. — New River Jazz: Big big band playing WWII-era songs
6:35 p.m. — Thanks and see you next year
For more information, visit the World War II Weekend West Virginia Facebook page.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH
(Additional reporting by Cheryl Keenan.)