Veterans park group set to hold dinner-dance

WELLSBURG – A Follansbee man who served in Italy during World War II will be recognized as Brooke County Veteran of the Year at the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation’s annual dinner-dance May 10.

The presentation of the award to Bill Schwertfeger will be a highlight of the dinner, which will be held at the Wellsburg Banquet Hall and will be followed by a dance with music by Twice As Nice.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, also will be a special guest.

Doors will open at 5 p.m., with dinner at 6 p.m. and the dance from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Tickets are $20 each and may be purchased from any member or by calling (304) 670-6471, (304) 374-7638, (304) 794-6546 or 670-4717 no later than May 6.

Schwertfeger said he was 19 when he served with others in the Army’s 34th Infantry Division in Nazi-occupied Italy. He described his overall experience, including participation in the Battle of Monte Cassino and Battle of Anzio, as “rough.”

Schwertfeger makes light of experiences such as mortar barrages, comparing them to “being at a fireworks display, only you’re on the ground in the middle of it,” and crossing minefields, which “makes things pucker you didn’t know could pucker.”

But he said the fear of death was as real as the frigid temperatures and snow-covered ground they trudged through as they made their way through mountainous terrain, with uncooperative mules carrying equipment packed by Italian allies.

Schwertfeger said the troops had to contend with frostbitten toes as well as fleas they picked up from the vacant barns where they slept when not in tents.

Schwertfeger later went on to a 32-year career in education, during which he taught at schools in Colliers, Hooverson Heights and Steubenville; and serve as principal at Wintersville Elementary School and as instructional supervisor for the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Later he served on Follansbee Council for six years but remained involved with students by coordinating the city’s Student Government Day, when pupils from Follansbee Middle School toured city facilities and participated in a mock council meeting.

Schwertfeger also has been involved with Vets for Veterans, a local group that visits veterans in nursing homes; and more recently, assisting John Chernenko and fellow members of the Barbed Wire Chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War.

He and Mary, his wife of 61 years, have two sons, John and Mark; and three grandchildren.

Schwertfeger said he is honored to receive the Veteran of the Year award. He said the park is beautiful and he would like to see it visited by more students.

Overlooking Brooke Hills Park’s paddle boat pond, the park features a granite wall bearing the names of 186 Brooke County veterans who died while serving in military conflicts and 27 who were prisoners of war; and a 7-foot tall and 4-foot wide cast bronze statue honoring all Brooke County veterans and designed by Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz.

It also includes a monument to Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Smith Jr., whose death in Iraq in 2004 inspired the park; and two ledgers representing Flanders Field and Arlington National Cemetery, symbols of those buried at home and abroad.

The park was dedicated on Veterans Day 2012 after $171,180 was raised through contributions from individuals, groups and businesses and a variety of fundraisers.

Proceeds from the dinner-dance will go to the park’s general maintenance.

(Scott can be contacted at