Stars and Stripes Over Chesapeake Beach
Veterans recount their stories this Memorial Day
Memorial Day Weekend does more than welcome summer with parades, picnics and pool openings. Begun as a sacred day of remembrance at cemeteries where our war dead rest, the holiday has expanded to honor all veterans, including those still on active duty.
What better way to honor these veterans than to tell their stories?
Stars and Stripes at Chesapeake Beach
The Chesapeake Beach inaugural Stars and Stripes Festival, Saturday, May 26 thru Monday, May 28, commemorates Memorial Day with three days of bands, parades, movies, games and a moonlight cruise. Military contingents and the North Beach Volunteer Fire Department demonstrate rescue operations. On Saturday, the Nam Knights stage their 20th Anniversary Motorcycle Ride.
Chesapeake Beach’s inaugural Stars and Stripes Festival gives us occasion to talk one-on-one with veterans of several eras and to see and learn from exhibits and films they’ve created.
We’ve started early, talking with a half-dozen of the many veterans who’ll join the three-day commemoration. Each continues to be of service in their communities and abroad.
|In World War II, 27 million Soviet civilians died. “I want people to understand the nature and depth of suffering among the Russian people,” says Donald Taylor, wearing the uniform of a junior officer of the Soviet Frontier Troops.|
The most surprising sight at the festival will be a man wearing the unfamiliar uniform of a junior officer of the Soviet Frontier Troops in World War II.
“I want people to understand the nature and depth of suffering among the Russian people,” says Donald Taylor. In World War II, 27 million Soviet civilians died. To make his point, Taylor speaks in Russian-accented English to describe the tragedies and acts of bravery inside Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during the 900 days Nazi forces blockaded and bombarded the starved city.
As a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne during the Cold War, Taylor’s work was — in his words — “jumping out of airplanes at 3am over dark swamps, myself weighing 130 pounds and carrying some 45 pounds of equipment, from a 25-pound radio to two parachutes and an M-16 rifle.”
Taylor studied Russian at the University of Leningrad in 1981. In a friendlier era, he interpreted in the Coast Guard’s discussions with members of the Russian Maritime Frontier Forces.
In his makeshift shelter, complete with samovar and balalaika, Taylor receives visitors on the Chesapeake Beach Town Hall lawn.
|Donald Knepp collects World War II militaria. After retiring from the Army he became a P.G. policeman “and loved every moment of it.”|
Donald Knepp is a collector of the serious tools of war, especially those from World War II: an M1 30-caliber rifle, M1 carbine, replicas of Thompson machine guns, knives, tents, helmets, backpacks, belts, canteens, tin plates and a few medals.
Miniature military vehicles and toys also fascinate the collector, who retired from the Army to become a policeman in Prince George’s County for over 20 years, “and loved every moment of it.” Now of Huntingtown, Knepp displays his collection all weekend inside the Community Center by the Chesapeake Beach Waterpark.
|George Brummell joined the Army at 17. A land mine in Vietnam cost him his sight but that hasn’t slowed him down.|
“I like challenges,” says George Brummell, whose life is crammed with challenges, before and during his military service in South Korea and in Vietnam.
“My mother was considered unfit to raise me, so my grandmother did,” says Brummell, who went from a foster home to the Army at age 17. With good eyesight and spirits, and the Korean War officially over, he embarked for peacetime service in South Korea.
Brummell made it through his Korea tour and re-enlisted to fight in Vietnam. He was a staff sergeant in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division when a land mine shattered his left arm and blinded him.
In 1998, Brummell returned to Vietnam and embarked on a 1,200-mile goodwill tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City perched on the rear seat of a tandem bicycle, riding with other vets from both sides of the conflict. To commemorate victims of 9/11, he biked from New York City to the Pentagon.
With his good right hand, he typed his memoir Shades of Darkness. He speaks on his experiences and signs his book Saturday, May 26 at 1pm at the Northeast Community Center.
|Phil Pfanschmidt piloted HH-3E helicopters out of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, at the height of the air war in Laos in 1969, when he participated in 12 rescues and received two Distinguished Flying Crosses. His 35-minute presentation is an overview of the Secret War in Laos.|
Phil Pfanschmidt was a U.S. Air Force instructor rescue pilot flying HH-3E helicopters out of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, at the height of the war in Vietnam. In 1969, he flew 12 rescues and received two Distinguished Flying Crosses. Like many combatants in that war, Pfanschmidt was exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange and still suffers the consequences.
A retired lieutenant colonel now living in Chesapeake Beach, Pfanschmidt created a film to convey some of this history. The footage he shot through the helicopter window while rescuing downed American airmen is rough and powerful.
He shows his film and answers questions at the Northeast Community Center on both Saturday and Sunday at 2pm.
|Bruce Wahl from his days in Vietnam says: “I remember some names, but not many. At the top right is SFC. John Cheeley, Detachment NCOIC, to the left is SFC. Bud Powers, Chief Engineer, the skinny one in the center top row is me 40 years and 120 pounds ago. Below Bud, with the bald head, is Navy JO1 Bill Gideon. Just to his left is, I think, John Ladwig. On the bumper, just above the 243FS is SSGT. John Childress. To his right is Navy ET2 Adam Fetner. Also on the bumper to the left is SP4 David Koseruba. Scott Oldham is between Dave and the dog. SP4 Hank Nevins is the one just to the right of the dog. At the far left is Air Force Sgt. Rick Tanguay, who ran the AM transmitter site located at Camp Schmidt. The black soldier above him is Eric Williams. This picture was shot by SP4 Ken MacNevin.”|
“I wouldn’t trade my military experience for anything,” says Bruce Wahl, mayor of Chesapeake Beach and a host of the Stars and Stripes Festival. “The army takes young people, trains them and expects them to perform.”
Fourteen of Wahl’s relatives are buried at Arlington.
Wahl served in Vietnam. Selected for officers’ training school, he became a lieutenant and was soon training others, including as a Battalion Training Advisor at the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Infantry Officers Candidate School in Thu Duc.
The army trained him in electronics, and when he entered the post-Vietnam civilian workforce, newly created National Public Radio happened to need precisely his skills. Under the title Senior Solutions Architect, he continues as NPR’s mainstay behind the scenes, specializing in software and the mechanics of broadcasting.
|“Our soldiers are serving through sacrifice in war zones,” says Nicole Starr. “Seeing trauma on a daily basis, all are affected, some so badly their lives are falling apart.” To help them hold it together, she runs the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder retreat in Anne Arundel County.|
Sgt. Nicole Johnson Starr of Chesapeake Beach, a recent veteran of American involvement in Afghanistan, takes us into the present.
She was born in a military family based in Germany. Both parents served in Vietnam, and her father also served in Operation Desert Storm.
Starr joined the Air Force at age 17 and served with the 353rd Special Operations Group. She continues in the Army National Guard while working on a graduate degree in psychology at the University of Maryland.
She knows the psychological wounds of war first-hand and by observation.
“Our American soldiers are serving through sacrifice in war zones,” she says. “Seeing trauma on a daily basis, all are affected, some so badly their lives are falling apart.”
Starr runs the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder retreat in Anne Arundel County. She also works with programs that train dogs for wounded warriors and says a large black Newfoundland-Labrador named Bear aided in her rehabilitation.
Visit her table at the Festival to learn more about these activities.