Wellsburg veteran honored

WELLSBURG – Leaders of the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation on Saturday recognized local veterans for their service to their country, community members who supported efforts to establish the memorial park and some who fall into both categories.

One who has served both his country and played a key role in making the park a reality is Gene Camilletti of Wellsburg, who was presented the foundation’s Brooke County Veteran of the Year award.

An Air Force veteran, Camilletti told the many attending the group’s annual dinner-dance at the Wellsburg Banquet Hall of his involvement as part of a grounds crew at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D., supporting B-52 bomber missions during the Korean War.

“Our job was to keep the guys in the air,” Camilletti said prior to the dinner, noting the ground personnel were responsible for ensuring the planes were prepared for flight.

As a medic at the Brooke Army Medical Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, Camilletti saw another side of the war as the facility specialized in the treatment of soldiers who had been severely burned by flamethrowers, bombs and other weapons during the war.

“What I saw of the burn patients was horiffic,” he recalled.

Camilletti said he volunteered to take those who were ambulatory outside for fresh air and listened as they spoke of their experiences in Korea or girlfriends back home. He added he regrets that he didn’t keep in touch with any of them and he often wonders what became of them when they returned to civilian life.

Before the dinner Camilletti recalled how the hospital also served as a training center for mobile army surgical hospitals, like the one seen on television’s “M.A.S.H.” He noted the concept originated during the Korean War and helped to save many lives by bringing urgent medical care closer to wounded troops.

Following his discharge as a staff sergeant, Camillietti was a real estate appraiser in the Dayton area for 20 years before applying his skills in the state Tax Department for 22 years.

He said his time in the military taught him discipline and prepared him well for the workplace.

“To this day, I’m very, very proud to be a veteran,” Camilletti said.

Gene’s son, Gene Jr., said his father has always stressed having “a commitment to God, your family and community and to finishing what you started.”

He said his father has often spoke of his pride in the veterans memorial park.

Leaders of the foundation noted Camilletti has been a member of the foundation since it was begun and has served on its board of directors, its fundraising committee and the committee that gathered the names of the fallen local veterans who are memorialized there.

“He just gives it all, no matter what,” said Nancy Strope, the fundraising commttee’s chair.

Recognition also was given to the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad which, under the direction of commander Doug Lilly, has been a regular participant in various events held by the foundation while continuing to present military honors at the funerals of many area veterans.

Assisted by Army National Guard Sgt. Dylan Tice and Specialist Deneka Szafran, the group served as color guard and related symbolic meanings in each step of the folding of the U.S. flag.

The group and foundation member Marilyn McCord also displayed military memorabilia, photos and information about local veterans at the dinner.

Serving as guest speaker was 1st Lt. Joseph Booth, commander of West Virginia Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility 2 at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport.

A native of Wayne County, W.Va., Booth noted his service to the Army and Army National Guard has taken him to many places, including deployment to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, to the U.S.’ southern border, where he was involved in the arrest of about 1,000 illegal immigrants smuggling more than 50,000 pounds of marijuana; and in helicopter surveillance operations uncovering marijuana cultivation in West Virginia.

Booth said the nation’s military couldn’t serve their country in the way they do without the support of their families, and he thanked his wife, Jenny, for her support.

He added he’s always been impressed by the flexibility and versatility of America’s military personnel, as demonstrated by their ability to learn and apply a variety of skills to various assignments and missions.

Booth said such dedication is vital to preserving America’s freedoms.

Howard Armstrong, the foundation’s president, commented on the completion last fall of the park, which overlooks the paddle boat pond at Brooke Hills Park.

“I have just three simple but powerful words: We did it,” he said, noting the park was nine years in the making and was without obstacles or naysayers.

Armstrong acknowledged its many supporters, including Strope and the fundraising committee, the Brooke Hills Park board, Ernie Stucin and Charles “Poke” Beall, foundation members who oversaw its construction; Walter, Brian and Jason Ferguson, who volunteered their services as electricians; and the many who donated money for the park.

“It truly was a countywide effort, and I can’t thank Brooke County enough,” he said.

Paul “Bud” Billiard, the group’s publicity coordinator and master of ceremonies for the dinner, announced the park will host its first Memorial Day service this year. Strope said the group also plans to hold two fundraisers each year for the park’s continued maintenance.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)