By Cassandra Brown, Contributor
Serving in Korea opened his young eyes to the world
At age 18,
Russell Claar made the most important decision of his life. The Bradbury
Heights, Md., native joined the Army.
“That was the smartest decision I ever made . . . . I think back and I really can’t believe I made that decision, but I’m glad I did,” Mr. Claar said.
In 1966, he set off for the Yongsan Army base in Seoul, Korea.
Serving two years in the Army Signal Corps, Mr. Claar worked in communications — making sure all telephones stayed up and running in Korea.
The same year, Mr. Claar prepared communications for President Johnson and 500 members of his entourage between Korea and Washington, D.C.— one of the highlights of his career.
Recalling his service in Korea, the poverty of the people still sticks in his mind.
“I remember going to bed at night, hearing children crying. It was very sad,” the Bealeton resident explained. “Every village we would drive into, the thing I remember the most is kids having no shoes on their feet and maybe just a shirt or pants. They would always be hungry and we would always give them all the food we had.”
In 2010, he returned to his base and to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) in Korea to find a completely different scene.
“Seoul looked like New York City. The children all had very nice clothes, like Nike tennis shoes. Every one of them had a cell phone and an iPod. There was a big difference. I was just amazed. It did my heart good,” said Mr. Claar, 67.
He spent four years in Army active duty and three years in the reserves.
“I joined the army because I felt it was the right thing to do,” Mr. Claar said.
A history of serving the military runs in his family. During World War II, his father and two uncles also served in the Army.
One uncle, Robert L. Jones, invaded and helped capture the Eagle’s Nest, where Hitler had his Austrian headquarters during World War II. Mr. Jones fought in the Battle of Anzio and earned three purple hearts.
Mr. Claar’s father, Staff Sgt. Lester D. Claar, served in World War II in the Pacific theater of action as a gunner on the SPD 5 Dauntless, a dive bomber.
Cpl. Ralph C. Decker, another uncle, served in China, Burma and India. He was part of the “Flying Tigers,” a group of pilots fighting the Japanese during World War II.
Today, as the commander of the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars Post 7728 at Morrisville, Mr. Claar raises community support for veterans through parades and other events.
The VFW, in partnership with a local Boy Scout troop, serves a meal to veterans of all branches of the military the weekend of Veterans Day each year.
“It’s a day to say thank you to our veterans,” Mr. Claar said.
He worked with the Department of Defense on the 60th anniversary Korean War commemoration committee, where he handed out certificates, honoring veterans for their service.
Mr. Claar also served as the Virginia ambassador for Freedom Team Salute for six years, handing out more than 5,000 certificates to Army veterans.
Honoring those who serve
For the second year, the Fauquier County Public Library has honored veterans such as Mr. Claar with photo displays during November.
Community members have submitted veterans’ photos from as far back as the War of 1812.
“We have found that this program provides a way to bring the community together, even if just for a few minutes at a time, as patrons and library staff experience the displays,” said Dawn Sowers, who coordinates the library program.
The photos, combined in collages with text, cover display boards, bulletin boards and kiosks at all three Fauquier library branches. More than 120 photos are on display.
Inspired by the children’s book “America’s White Table,” the library staff also set a table full of symbolic items to represent and honor veterans missing in action.
“I think it provides us all an opportunity to remember how proud we can be to be Americans,” Ms. Sowers said.
Every village we would drive into, the thing I remember the most is kids having no shoes on their feet and maybe just a shirt or pants. They would always be hungry and we would always give them all the food we had.
— Russell Claar