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Veterans Day recalls service, sacrifice and a desire for peace



Above, local high school bands warmed the crowd up – WCHS and R-MA pictured, Skyline out of frame; below, as the WC Courthouse clock clicks toward 11 a.m., the R-MA Color Guard stands ready. See 10 more event photos at the end of story. Photos/Roger Bianchini

An impressive thing about Veterans Day services from year to year in Front Royal is the broad remembrance of its origin.  While 2017 veered from the norm of initiating that remembrance at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month minus one day due to that 11th day coming on Saturday, the emotions were no different.

If the public officials acknowledging our memory of personal sacrifice for a greater good change from year to year, the thought does not.  This year’s keynote speaker was Col. John C. Casserino of R-MA; John Kokernak acknowledged the POW’s and MIA’s; Front Royal’s incumbent Mayor Hollis Tharpe spoke; Haley Wills directed the E. Wilson Morrison Choir; R-MA provided the Color Guard; and the WCHS, Skyline and R-MA bands performed.

Other people and images remain constant from year to year – a Gold Star Mother Helen Seekford, bundled from the cold; chaplains asking for God’s blessing on those who have served and those who wait anxiously for their return; and the veterans themselves who’s crisp salutes and erect posture recall the duty and discipline of their service.

This year Shelley Remillard of the Post 53 Ladies Auxiliary’s invocation asked, as others have in other years, for Divine countenance on his humble creatures gathered, to evolve beyond a need for war as a solution to human disagreement.

Each year that I hear that plea for peace I am reminded why we traditionally celebrate what is now known as Veteran’s Day at 11 a.m. on 11-11 each year.  One year after World War I ended on that 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, by Presidential Decree “Armistice Day” was created to recall the end of what was, perhaps naively at the time, thought by many to be the end of the “War That Would End All Wars”.

Why such a belief? – Because war, as brutal and far-reaching as it had been throughout recorded history, had never before seen such a face.  It was the face of modern technology – machine guns, tanks, airplanes and poison gas, meeting old-world fighting techniques of tightly-lined assaults into the teeth of enemy positions; a war where retreat was followed by the gas, the tanks, the bombs from the sky, and refuge was perilous at best.

The result was a carnage lasting just under five years that saw over 17 million killed, 7 million of those civilians; and another 20 million wounded across Europe.  Surely the human race had learned a lesson – that modern technology and war were incompatible with its survival.

But today, 99 years after the end of that war and 98 years after the first Armistice Day celebration, we know that hope appears to have been a futile one.  As Keynote Speakers often note of Veterans Day and its Armistice Day origin, “It celebrates peace; but as the ancient Greek philosophers said, ‘Only the dead see an end to war.’

And perhaps realization of that unhappy fact is why “Armistice Day” has evolved into “Veterans Day” since our collective experience is that 11-11-1918 did NOT mark the end of the war that would end all wars.

Giles B. Cook Legion Post 53 Commander Larry Funk again hosted our Front Royal-Warren County Veterans Day ceremony.  As Commander Funk has lamented in past ceremonies, many of our surviving veterans of the wars that have come since 1918 continue to deal with consequences of their wartime experiences.  He has urged us not to forget the large number of homeless veterans, as many as 67,000 have been cited on previous Veterans Days here; as well as unemployed vets.  Most tragically for those who have returned, Funk has pointed to as many as 20 veteran suicides a day in some yeas.

On a chill, windy but suddenly bright, sunny, mid-fall day in 2017, I found my thoughts drifting to the poem “In Flanders Fields”, referenced last year by then-Mayor Tim Darr.   The poem was written in May 1915 by Canadian military doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.  Its impetus is believed to have been McCrae’s conduct of the field burial service for Lieutenant Alexis Helmer in the absence of a company chaplain:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

It is my recollection that Veterans Day 2014 was the first cited without a veteran of World War I still alive.  And as then, again on November 11, I mean 10th, 2017, I found myself humming as I was thinkin’ on all this.  The melody and lyrics of a mid-1960s song penned by 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Bob Dylan began drifting into my mind.  So as last year in Royal Examiner’s coverage of Veterans Day, I think these Nobel Prize-contributing lyrics appropriate to conclude our annual tribute to our military veterans, past, present and future, with a still hopeful nod to its forbearer, Armistice Day:

With God On Our Side

Oh my name it is nothin’, my age it means less
The country I come from, is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there, the laws to abide
And the land that I live in, has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it, they tell it so well; The cavalries charged, the Indians fell; The cavalries charged, the Indians died; Oh the country was young then, with God on its side

The Spanish-American, War had its day
And the Civil War too, was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes, I’s made to memorize
With guns on their hands, and God on their side.

The First World War, boys, it came and it went; The reason for fighting, I never did get; But I learned to accept it, accept it with pride; For you don’t count the dead, when God’s on your side.

When the Second World War came to an end
We forgave the Germans, and then we were friends
Though they murdered six million, in the ovens they fried
The Germans now too, have God on their side.

I’ve learned to hate the Russians, all through my whole life
If another war comes, it’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them, to run and to hide
And accept it all bravely, with God on my side.

But now we got weapons, of chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to, then fire them we must
One push of the button, and the shot’s worldwide
And you never ask questions, when God’s on your side.

In a many dark hour, I’ve been thinkin’ about this,
That Jesus Christ, was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you, you’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot, had God on his side

So now as I’m leavin’, I’m weary as hell
The confusion I’m feelin’, ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head, and fall to the floor
If God’s on our side, He’ll stop the next war.

A beautiful, if chilly fall Veterans Day in Front Royal

This 3-photo sequence shows the Colors being presented as Gold Star Mother Helen Seekford watches.

In the background, flags at half staff in front of the new Front Royal Town Hall as the ceremony begins; at center foreground, local Memorial Day event organizer Malcolm Barr Sr. brought his Husky Pola as a tribute to the role of the dogs of war.

Shelley Remillard of the Post 53 Ladies Auxiliary delivers the invocation.

The E. Wilson Morrison Choir under direction of Haley Wills.

Mayor Hollis Tharpe remembers the service and sacrifice of America’s soldiers.

With a remembrance of the nation’s POW’s and MIA’s in place on an empty chair in front of him, Giles B. Cook Post 53 Commander Larry Funk addresses the service of those who return and those who do not.

Veterans Randy Vaughan, left, and Danny Whitsell were among those to enjoy a post-ceremony luncheon at the Legion Post 53 headquarters following the 2017 Veterans Day ceremony. (We’d like to thank Post 53’s ‘Buster’ Ramos for his help in assembling information on this year’s event)

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Lord Fairfax Health District offers free COVID testing session in Woodstock



The Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) will offer COVID-19 testing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, June 8, at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds, 300 Fairground Road, in Woodstock. Five hundred tests will be available.

Testing offered will be the nasal swab sample that looks for the presence of RNA from the actual virus. It will be offered in a drive-through format. Participants will be required to provide consent for testing and contact information so that proper follow-up can occur.

“We selected this location for our first community testing session, due to the presence of several outbreaks in Shenandoah County, and a desire to reach out to members of the medically underserved community, many of whom live in the area,” said Dr. Colin Greene, District Director. “We are very happy to be able to offer these tests at no charge to the patient.”

LFHD will offer testing on a first-come, first-served basis, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., or until test supplies are exhausted, whichever comes first. Testing is available to anyone ages 10 years and older. All persons must remain in the vehicle, and no walk-ups will be tested. Those seeking tests should be seated near a window of the vehicle.

To protect yourself and healthcare workers, please wear a cloth face covering or mask. Please keep at least six feet of distance between yourself and other people at all times. Please tell the testing providers if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, deep cough, or shortness of breath, or believe that you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

For more information, call the Lord Fairfax Health District at 540-459-3733.

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Town Talk: A conversation with Sgt Laura Gomez and Captain Jeff Holzbauer; new dogs tags, K-9 additions



In this Town Talk, we’ll have a conversation with Sgt Laura Gomez and Captain Jeff Holzbauer from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Sgt Gomez is an Animal Control Officer and Captain Holzbauer is in charge of the Patrol Division.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division has the primary law enforcement responsibilities of providing a wide range of services and to initiate a proactive approach when assisting the community.

The Animal Control Division provides enforcement of all animal control issues within the County of Warren and the Town of Front Royal. Animal law enforcement, including the methods of capture, confinement, and disposition of nuisance animals, both domestic and feral, requires that the animals be treated in the most humane manner possible. Warren County or Town residents who require the assistance of Warren County Animal Control are to contact the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 540-635-4128 or in the case of an emergency, 911. This includes any questions dealing with wildlife matters.

Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to

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Valley Health System welcomes new President and CEO



Mark Nantz, Valley Health System’s new President, and Chief Executive Officer

Mark Nantz, Valley Health System’s new President, and Chief Executive Officer began work Monday in true COVID-19 style: appropriately distanced, wearing a face mask, elbow bumping new colleagues, and joining more than 6,000 coworkers to report a daily personal health attestation for the safety of patients and colleagues.

Certainly, neither Nantz nor his predecessor, Mark Merrill, anticipated making this major leadership transition during a public health crisis. Merrill’s retirement farewells and Nantz’s welcomes are occurring via email and video until it is safer to meet face-to-face and travel to Valley Health sites around the region.

During the Valley Health Board of Trustees’ nationwide search and comprehensive interview process with system, physician and community leaders, Nantz stood out as an accomplished and visionary healthcare leader with an impressive record of building advanced clinical programs and successful physician and community partnerships and improving patient satisfaction, quality metrics, and employee engagement at the local, regional and system levels.

“From the moment I first met with the search committee and then stepped on the Valley Health campus in Winchester, I knew I had found a place where people shared my commitment to improving the health and well-being of the community, especially those who are marginalized and under-served,” Nantz says. “During my interview process, every board member, every provider, every leader, and every staff member demonstrated a dedication and commitment to Valley’s Health’s mission of “Serving our Community by Improving Health”. It was clear to me that I had found a new place to call home and caregivers with whom I could join in serving the community.”

Nantz previously served in executive roles with Bon Secours Mercy Health, most recently as Chief Administrative Officer and Atlantic Group President; before that as Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Bon Secours. He has also held executive positions at Carolinas Healthcare System (now Atrium Health) and Carolinas Medical Center–NorthEast, and leadership roles in the audit practice of a Big 5 accounting firm. A certified public accountant, Nantz holds a Master’s in Health Administration from Pfieffer University and is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.

In his first video introduction to Valley Health employees this week, Nantz touched on what motivates him personally and what his priorities are as Valley Health’s CEO:

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.’ I believe that with all my heart and it’s why I have spent nearly 30 years in not-for-profit healthcare. It is at the core of my call to serve in the ministry of care delivery. To be sure, I feel that each of us has been called to serve others by providing access to high quality, affordable health care, and an exceptional patient experience, regardless of whether or not those individuals have the ability to pay. I think we are called to treat everyone who walks through our doors with dignity and compassion and that we must respect and appreciate the unique set of beliefs and experiences that they bring to our organization. That’s what drives me and what gets me up in the morning.”

“These are challenging times,” Nantz continued. “The COVID pandemic has changed much about the way we provide care, how our community views healthcare workers…and even the way we live. You can be confident that Valley Health’s medical and executive leadership have taken steps to ensure the delivery of safe, quality care as we diagnose and treat those with COVID, as well as care for our other patients with emergent healthcare needs. Our health system will continue to respond and adjust in these changing and uncertain times, and we will endeavor to ensure financial stability for both individual employees and the organization as a whole.”

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Face masks are a labor of love for one local woman



“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” may be an old adage to some, but to Warren County resident Redz Castro Downes, it is a way of life.

Castro Downes, a Certified Nursing Assistant, is known to her family and friends as a kind-hearted person who always looks for ways to brighten the lives of those around her.

This pandemic has inspired me to learn how to sew and make the best out of a difficult situation,” Redz Castro Downes said recently. Here, she models a custom mask. / Courtesy photos

While caring for her husband, local attorney David Downes, during a recent illness, Redz realized that the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was making it harder to find the face masks that were now required for wearing. She was especially concerned that her husband have adequate face-coverings as he recovered.

Having always wanted to learn how to sew, Redz decided to purchase a brand-new sewing machine and try her hand at making masks for her own family. “I’ve always wanted to learn sewing skills, and maybe make clothes for myself,” she said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview.

Undaunted by the fact that she did not know how to sew, Castro Downes stocked up on fabric at a local store, and downloaded a pattern to make washable, fabric masks.

In a short time, Redz mastered mask-making, each one taking less than 20 minutes from start to finish. Husband David and step-daughter Gayle have joined in, creating an assembly line. Gayle cuts out the mask pieces, David measures and cuts the elastic that forms ear loops, and Redz stitches the masks together.

Since the family began wearing their stylish masks, friends have taken notice and are asking if they can purchase the washable, cotton face coverings. So far, the Downes’ cottage industry has produced over four dozen masks, and the orders are pouring in!

Customers, such as Front Royal business owner town council candidate Betty Showers says the masks are “light, comfortable, adjustable and absolutely adorable!” She added that the masks were a great price and “I would recommend them to everyone.”

Especially popular among Redz’s customers is the plain black mask, with or without a Virginia Beer Museum logo. The first one was made for David, proprietor of the only beer museum in the commonwealth.

The Virginia Beer Museum mask is a popular design, and can be purchased at the museum when it reopens on Friday, June 5.

Redz says the proceeds from her mask sales will be split 50/50, with half of the money going to her family, who live in the Philippines and have been hard-hit by the pandemic. The other half will go to the Virginia Beer Museum, which is slated to reopen Friday, June 5 at 5 PM after being shuttered nearly three months.

The masks will be available for purchase at the museum, beginning Friday.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced earlier this week that all museums, theaters, and other tourist attractions across the commonwealth can re-open for business.

To order a mask: Message Redz Castro Downes or David Downes on Facebook Messenger.

VBM fabric masks $10 each, fabric masks $10 each or 2/$15

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Front Royal Unites plans peaceful June 5 equality march



Citizens of Front Royal, Va., plan to come together tomorrow to make their voices heard in a peaceful protest of the institutional injustices against people of color across the United States.
The newly formed Front Royal Unites has organized a Friday, June 5 march beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Bing Crosby Stadium on E. 8th Street in Front Royal.

“It is important to remember to remain peaceful — there have been sustained reports of people showing up to agitate the outcome of this event,” wrote Front Royal Unites organizers in a statement released on Wednesday. “But together and through unity, we will not allow them to disturb our peace and take away the focus from the movement. We will lead by example.”

The Front Royal Unites event, like many across the nation and world, was spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., after a white police officer knelt on the black man’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street.

Arrests and charges of four police officers followed. Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd to the ground by his neck, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But on Wednesday prosecutors charged him with a more serious count of second-degree murder.

Earlier today, a judge set bail for the other three former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death at $1 million each, or $750,000 under certain conditions, including that they do not work in law enforcement or have any contact with Floyd’s family. The officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao have been charged with second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

While the arrests and charges have been referred to as a good first step in bringing justice to Floyd and his family members, protests have been held throughout the U.S. and across the globe by people calling for larger changes that would end systemic racism, police brutality and other issues of inequality, such as those related to housing, education, employment, and healthcare for blacks and other people of color.

The mission of Front Royal Unites is to eradicate white supremacy, according to the group’s statement.

“We believe silence is complicit and injustices against minority groups must stop!” according to the group’s mission statement. “From the courthouse to the schoolhouse, bridges must be built and not burnt down. We want to ensure that regardless of your complexion, you are not feared, you feel safe, and you get equal footing. Together we are united. Together we are Front Royal.”
Front Royal resident Justin Thorne, an organizer of Front Royal Unites, said during a Facebook video that the group seeks “multiple changes for black lives,” especially in small towns.

Front Royal Unites organizer Justin Thorne of Front Royal spoke to group members in an online Facebook video earlier this week reiterating the need for a peaceful march.

“We are going to be the better people and try to make a change for the better,” Thorne said in his video. “We are protesting for black lives, for justice, and for unity. We need to educate people. We need to change this system.”

Earlier this week, Front Royal unites met with officials from the Town of Front Royal, the Front Royal Police Department, and the Warren County Sheriff’s Department to develop an agreeable plan for the march, including the route.

Front Royal Police Chief Kahle Magalis told the Royal Examiner that “meetings with Front Royal Unites worked out fantastically.”

In addition, a few of the police department’s officers, along with members of the local sheriff’s department, “will be taking part in the march” and walking alongside the participants, Magalis said.

“We are fortunate for those individual citizens within our community who have helped, are helping, and will continue to help to see this event through,” said Front Royal resident Samuel Leon Porter, a Virginia advisor and head of communications for Front Royal unites.

The rain-or-shine event begins at 6:30 p.m. and will start and end at Bing Crosby Stadium, wrapping up around 8:30 p.m. A rally, several speeches, and a cookout will take place at the stadium following the march. The event is free to the public.

Among the scheduled speakers at the stadium following the march is Front Royal Councilwoman Letasha Thompson, a life-long Front Royal resident.

“Everyone has the right to protest,” Thompson posted June 3 on the Front Royal Unites site. “The key here is to remain PEACEFUL even if someone tries to provoke you. I’m looking forward to a peaceful and UNIFYING event where we all stand UNITED.”

Other speakers include Porter, a retired member of the U.S. Navy; local community leaders Kenny Sonnie and Gene Kilby; and Kori Morris, the volunteer coordinator for Front Royal Unites. The master of ceremonies is Stevi Hubbard, who is head of community relations for Front Royal Unites.

Porter said that for residents concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, they may still participate by parking their vehicles at the stadium where they will be able to hear participating speakers being broadcast over the stadium loudspeakers.

And while members of Front Royal Unites have received some negative comments, Thorne urged participants not to have that same mindset and to instead remain positive, peaceful and focused.

“Prepare yourself mentally to hold it all in,” Thorne said on his video. “It’s very important. This is a peaceful protest and it needs to stay peaceful so that we can get our point across.”

Front Royal Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick said he thinks the march and rally will be successful. “I have every hope this will be a peaceful event,” Tederick told the Royal Examiner this evening.

The Front Royal Unites march will begin and end at Bing Crosby Stadium.

Watch this exclusive Royal Examiner video with Front Royal Unites organizers:

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Royal Cinemas reopens



Rick Novak of Royal Cinemas and Royal Family Bowling Center announces that the Royal Cinemas has reopened. Rick had the staff in on Thursday, June 4th to get the projections up and running – so what you would call a “soft open’, but really gets underway on Friday, June 5th. Check out the showtimes and movies here.

Mike McCool our publisher stopped by the theater Thursday afternoon and spoke with Rick about the reopening of Royal Cinemas and Royal Family Bowling Center.

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