Watauga veterans honored
by Kellen Moore
Dozens of veterans and those who appreciate them gathered Monday to remember their service at a Veterans Day program at the Boone Mall.
Robert Shipley, a 100-year-old veteran of World War II, was the guest speaker at the annual ceremony, sponsored by the High Country chapter of the Military Officers Association of America.
Shipley joined the U.S. Air Force in 1943 as a gunner instructor for B-24 bombers. But before he ever put on a uniform, Shipley was a teacher and agronomist.
“They were short on teachers, and especially in the aerial gunnery program, so they decided that would be a good location for me,” he said.
Realizing the difficulty of providing fresh vegetables to troops, the U.S. Air Force also commissioned Shipley and others on a hydroponics project on Ascension Island.
The island, located halfway between Africa and South America, was a refueling station for American planes that was barren and covered in volcanic rock.
Shipley and others created 100 plant beds there and used a gravity-fed water system of distilled sea water to grow vegetables in the difficult environment.
The project was chronicled in several national magazines in 1945, he recalled.
“It worked out real well,” he said. “… That was the beginning of my association with hydroponics.”
Shipley praised the work of the U.S. forces and noted some of the ways that national and local groups have worked to improve life for veterans after their service.
Shipley’s wife, Agnes, joined him at the program Monday, and Shipley noted the importance of family.
“I lost a great-grandfather in the Civil War. I lost a brother in this war, in World War II,” Shipley said. “So I can relate to what many, many families suffer, a loss of family.”
The program also included the posting of colors, singing of the National Anthem, invocation by retired Col. Sonny Sweet and an array of music by the Watauga Community Band.
Darlene Caudill also sang a riveting patriotic melody, and Richard Rupp of the Mountainaires Quartet led the group in song.
The event also honored all of the veterans in attendance by asking them to stand when their branches’ songs were played in a medley by the Community Band.
Visit Facebook.com/WataugaDemocrat for more photos from the program.