By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Among some of the community projects taken on by the Shinnston Lions Club has been sponsorship of what has become Shinnston’s annual Veterans Day parade. Although other area cities also host parades on that same day (which means competition), the Lions Club has maintained its commitment to bringing recognition to many of its own local veterans.
“Our club feels that it is important to recognize the service and sacrifice of veterans who live right here in our community, so we continue to support this event in Shinnston wholeheartedly, regardless of the fact that there are perhaps other larger celebrations nearby,” said David Minor, president of the Shinnston Lions Club.
Each year, several local veterans are asked to serve as Parade Marshals for the Shinnston parade. This year there are four gentlemen who will serve in this capacity, and it appears to be “Army” year! All four of this year’s honored servicemen are Army vets. Listed alphabetically, they are Bob Lefever, Pat Matheny, Marion Russell, and Ralph Spagnuolo.
Let’s meet each one ……..
Robert J. “Bob” Lefever was a member of what journalist Tom Brokaw’s book termed the “Greatest Generation” … a generation of folks who grew up in the United States during the deprivation of the Great Depression … a generation whose soldiers fought in World War II … a generation of soldiers who fought because it was the right thing to do.
Immediately following his graduation from WI High School with the Class of 1944, Lefever enlisted in the Army, serving with the 66th Panther Division in Europe. In the south of France, they were successful in holding back a pocket of Germans until they surrendered. The Panthers moved on to Germany and were preparing to move on to Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped.
Following his discharge, Bob attended Potomac State on the GI Bill, and there he played basketball. He later returned to Clarksburg where he began his lifelong career with the telephone company.
He has been a resident of Shinnston since he married his wife Sandy in 1980.
Lefever says he completed his ‘bucket list’ this past May when he visited Washington, DC as part of the Honor Flight with other fellow veterans.
When wearing his WWII Veterans cap, he says he receives many handshakes and thanks and always replies – “It was an honor to serve!”
Pat Matheny is another local Army veteran who enlisted in 1964, shortly after graduating from Shinnston High School. Pat was only 17 years of age, thus requiring his parents to sign for him so that he could join up.
Pat served three years in the Army and probably the year he spent in Vietnam remains most vivid in his memory. And they were not all good memories! Pat was a crew chief on a UH-1 “Huey”, a helicopter that transported supplies, transported troops, hauled out POW’s, the wounded, and unfortunately, dead soldiers as well.
Pat recalls, “I saw more than most teenage boys would ever want to see, which forced me to grow up a lot and quickly. Even after serving for three years in the Army, I still wasn’t old enough to vote when I got home!”
Many of his memories in Vietnam are memories he chooses not to visit – even now. However, he has spent considerable time researching, collecting photos and stories from fellow military friends, and has compiled memoirs of his military service that he now shares on facebook. He has also put together four 45-minute DVDs complete with sound – both ground and in-air footage he shot with an old hand-cranked 8 mm camera.
Upon his discharge, Pat returned to the area and worked at the zinc plant in Spelter before going into the mining industry, from which he retired as a Consol shift foreman. Pat still resides in Pine Bluff where he grew up. He and his wife Susie have two children and are the proud grandparents of four grandchildren.
Marion Russell, a lifelong resident of Shinnston, graduated from Shinnston High School in 1957. He recalls that times were tough in the 50’s and not a lot of jobs were available, so he joined the Army. Things happened quickly! He passed his exam, was sent to Fort Jackson, SC, then on to Fort Hood, Texas for basic training – followed by service with the 3rd Armored Division. His orders sent him to Germany where he was stationed in Schweinfurt. He remained there until his discharge in 1962.
With the 3rd Infantry Division (Audie Murphy’s outfit), he was the Co.A company clerk and was later sent to Hq & Hq to be the headquarters clerk. At one time he was also an ammunition clerk and drove the jeep for the commander of the Ammunition Department.
As a young soldier who was rather ‘green’, he recalls getting “chewed out pretty good” at one time when he failed to salute a jeep carrying General William Westmoreland, who later commanded all U.S. military operations in the Vietnam War
Ralph Spagnuolo, a native of Gypsy, WV, was drafted into the Army in 1956 at the age of 22. Following basic and advanced training in ordinances and heavy equipment at Fort Benning, GA and Fort Jackson, SC, he, along with 2,800 other troops, were transported to Bremerhaven, Germany via the USS General Patch.
Not long after his arrival, he was assigned to the 581st Engineer Company and left for the Southwest of France where he spent over five years at the Army post in Bussac near Bordeaux. There, he was in charge of field maintenance and was deployed on multiple temporary duties with the 83rd Engineering Battalion. There, he also met and married a local French girl, Viviane Durivault, to whom he is still married and with whom he had two children.
In 1962, he crossed the sea again, returning to New York. Set to be discharged, he chose to re-enlist and was assigned to the 538th Engineering Battalion in Fort Knox, KY. In 1962, he was selected as a member of the advanced party set to engage in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but fortunately, after a 4-day standby in the airfields, tensions with the Soviets eased and he returned to normal duties at Ft. Knox.
In 1963, Ralph was promoted to staff sergeant and graduated from the NCO Academy. He was discharged in 1965 and returned to Gypsy where he worked for a short time at the zinc plant in Spelter. Later he opened “Spag’s” service station at Haywood Junction, a business operation he continued for 35 years.
Ralph was one of 12 children. His father was a founding member of the Shinnston American Legion, and of the nine Spagnuolo sons, seven served in the US military.
Learn more about these local servicemen who will be recognized at a luncheon open to the public that will be held at the Shinnston American Legion Post #31 following the parade on Veterans Day. Remove your hats and applaud these Parade Marshals as they pass by during the parade. Their service is worthy of our thanks!