Columbiana Co. veteran and Purple Heart recipient Harold Orr
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Charley Mike Stoffel, of Wellsville, Ohio, served in the Army during WWII, joining at age 17. He was wounded, served on the front line with the 28th Infantry Division, and was a prisoner of war twice. Stoffel, who earned the rank of corporal, is a four-time Purple Heart recipient, and has received 12 other medals for valor and service.
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When the “people mover” wagon slowly entered the grandstand area on Sunday morning during the last day of the Columbiana County Fair, an emotional, unscripted thing happened.
The seated people in the grandstands got to their feet in a wave, giving the wagon’s riders a standing ovation salute.
The guests in the wagon were, indeed, worthy of such an introduction: They were Columbiana County veterans who had received the Purple Heart for their service to country.
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James Brussard, of East Liverpool, served in Austria and the European theater during WWII, and was wounded on two separate occasions. He has also received three Bronze Stars.
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The grandstands ceremony was the culmination of an idea spearheaded by fair board director Sharen Cope. When Cope joined the fair board, she wanted to do something special, and immediately thought of a project she was involved with several years ago at the Canfield Presbyterian Church. Church members and friends made quilts and blankets, and delivered them to veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Why not, Cope thought, create a fine arts category for fair exhibitors to enter, with the knowledge that the red, white and blue creations would be given to veterans in the county. Specifically, recipients of the Purple Heart medal, which is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who are wounded during wartime combat.
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Harold Orr, of Columbiana, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and was wounded in Germany in 1944. He was a sergeant in the infantry division from 1943 to 1946.
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A quilter herself, Cope stitched four examples and placed them in libraries across the county, with information about the class and a call to find local vets who had received the Purple Heart. She pushed the new program and tribute in local media. Board member Bob Crosser lent his support, as did friends and other stitchers.
Slowly, the entries — and the names of local veterans — trickled in.
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James R. Manley, of East Liverpool, was wounded in August 1951 during the Korean War. Of the 127 soldiers in his unit, only 27, including Manley survived.
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During the fair, the 30 red, white and blue entries made a brilliant display in the Arts and Crafts Building.
The grandstand was full for Sunday’s dedication service that included remarks by U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, gun volley by the AmVets of Salem, and special music.
But the stars were the veterans who sat quietly onstage, clearly overwhelmed and touched by the outpouring of thanks. Several wept quietly.
“Nobody’s ever done anything like this for us before,” one of the Vietnam veterans told Cope after the service.
But the vets weren’t alone in their emotions, particularly as the audience stood to sing Lee Greenwood’s stirring God Bless the U.S.A. Many in the crowd had to wipe away tears.
“It was just so touching and it was everything that I dreamed it would be,” Cope said after the ceremony.
“It wasn’t about me, it was about the veterans. They risked their lives and we, as Americans, it was time — it was past time — to say thank you.”
A brief bio of each serviceman was read as Cope and Crosser presented the quilt, or afghan, or coverlet to him.
In addition to the veterans mentioned above, the ceremony thanked local vets Stephen Chestnut, Michael Nahod, Steven Tatgenhorst, Richard Kountz, Earl “Butch” Hardy, Richard Baker, Richard Clendening Sr., Wesley White, Blair Whitman, Pete Fraser.
And then, a good 10 minutes after the program was over, when the “people mover” wagon slowly left the grandstand area, another unscripted thing happened.
The seated people in the grandstands got to their feet in a wave, giving the wagon’s riders a final standing ovation salute.
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(See photos from the Purple Heart dedication ceremony, and read brief bios of those veterans honored.)