Take a vet to school
Local veterans shared their wartime experiences with Berkeley Springs High School juniors and seniors at a November 10 “Take a Veteran to School Day” assembly.
Master Sergeant Vince Shambaugh-Morgan County Sheriff, Tech Sergeant Ed Middlekauff, Corporal James Proffitt and Sergeant Bill Lewis spoke to students as part of the program.
The national History Channel initiative took place at 18 West Virginia high schools. The West Virginia Telecommunications Association also sponsored the program. Senator Jay Rockefeller, Senate Veterans Affairs committee member, pioneered the first event in Clarksburg in 2008.
Some participating veterans are having their oral histories archived in the Library of Congress for posterity.
Regional Comcast supervisor Eric Lee said the initiative was created “to honor our veterans who have served our country and fought for our freedom.” It also allows veterans to share their stories with another generation.
Gulf War, Kuwait
Shambaugh was a Marine, Air National Guard member, a tank crewman, special security forces after 9/11 and military police. He served in the Persian Gulf War and Afghanistan and was part of the first American forces into Kuwait in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
Shambaugh said he missed the birth of his first son because of his deployment. He visited 69 countries while in the military service.
“I’m proud of my service and I’d do it all over again,” Shambaugh said.
Shambaugh is Second Vice Commander of the Alderton-Dawson American Legion Post # 60.
World War II
Middlekauff served in World War II in General George Patton’s 3rd Army and fought in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne and Lorraine. He designed the World War II Memorial in Berkeley Springs.
Middlekauff was trained as a mechanical engineer and sniper before shipping out. They were at sea for 13 days in a convoy of 60 vessels, he said.
“The safety of the convoy was in staying together,” Middlekauff said.
His infantry division moved across France relieving other units and fighting on the front line. Middlekauff was wounded by German rocket artillery and suffered an extensive concussion and minor wounds in March, 1945. He received the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
Proffitt was in the Army in Okinawa until the Korean War broke out in June, 1950. He was wounded three times in Korea, twice by artillery shrapnel-one a head wound and another a stomach wound.
He was back in combat within two weeks after each hospitalization. Manpower was short in the field, he said. Proffitt was awarded three Purple Hearts.
Proffitt, a machine gunner, was also pinned in a foxhole one night when it was around 40 degrees below zero. The cold froze his hands, feet, fingers and ears.
He was shipped back to Tokyo Hospital for 60 days and served as military police until his discharge. Proffitt is past State Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Lewis served in the Army in Vietnam in the 29th Artillery as a search light operator. He manned 75-foot towers with infrared lights.
Lewis said Vietnam was the longest war in the United States history. It was a jungle war filled with Viet Cong attacks and booby traps, he said. More than 58,000 American soldiers lost their lives there.
Lewis received a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star of Valor for his service. He is also a 30-year member of the Maryland Army National Guard.
Students asked about the transition to civilian life, the skills they learned, the nightmares and flashbacks, how they kept in touch with loved ones and how prepared they were.
Shambaugh said it was their background, religion, friends and comrades that got them through it. Middlekauff said it was either “kill or be killed.”
Proffitt said their unit had little or no training before they got to Korea.
“It didn’t take long to figure out what you had to do,” he said.
“You had to do it to save your own life. You take it day to day,” Lewis said.
Lewis said it was really hard to come back and get used to life. Proffitt said there were no parades when he returned and that he wasn’t welcomed in some veterans’ circles.
“It was real sad,” he said.
Middlekauff exchanged war stories with buddies when he got back. People treated them really well, he said. Vietnam veterans weren’t accepted. It was important to him to see that they were honored.
Shambaugh said that he came home to overpowering support. The prayers and the mail meant a lot.
“We wouldn’t have what we have if it wasn’t for our vets,” he said.
Shambaugh said that everyone that’s been to combat deals with it differently. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, but the four of them haven’t.
“You have to live with what you’ve done,” Lewis said.
Middlekauff had a recurring dream of not having a rifle and not being able to protect himself. He said he still has nightmares 60 years later. Every veteran has post-traumatic stress disorder. Some will admit it and some won’t.
“Once you’ve been in combat, you never forget,” Middlekauff said.
What they learned
The veterans each learned specialized skills, but also gained other experience.
Serving in the military teaches you how to take care of yourself and about yourself, Middlekauff said. Proffitt said he learned how to be an American citizen, how to behave and how to respect others.