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93-year-old unveils new WWI plaque 73 years after first dedication

By Gheni_Platenburg
May 31, 2010 at 12:31 a.m.

From left, John Tait, Buddy Perkins and Armando Aguilar stand before the courthouse at the Memorial Day re-dedication of the 1937 World War I plaque recast.

Monday marked 93-year-old Elsie Wurdel-Koehl's second time performing a special task at the county's annual Memorial Day Program.

Dressed to perfection in a purple dress and white shoes, Koehl stood near the Victoria County Courthouse steps and unveiled the recasted World War I plaque with a little help from her eldest daughter.

"We're so proud to bring her here," said Koehl's 65-year-old daughter, Melva Toler. "It's an honor."

Koehl, whose father died in World War I, unveiled the original plaque in 1937.

The inaccuracy of the plaque, as well as the wear and tear it had sustained over the years, prompted the Victoria County Veterans Council to have the plaque recast to include the names of 11 soldiers who were inadvertently omitted the first time.

In addition to raising and blessing the flags, the 2010 Memorial Day program included a placing of the wreaths and a reading of the Victoria-area veterans who had died within the last year.

"Let us stand here so far removed so that we may honor their memories," said Gary Dunnam, Victoria County Heritage director.

Dunnam also gave a speech sharing historical facts about Victoria and war. He said at one time Victoria was known as the "military capital of Texas."

Veteran Council members were happy about the event's turnout.

"By far, this is the most people who have attended," said Peter Riesz, Victoria County Veterans Council treasurer and chairman of the monument committee. "We've been working on this for two years so this was a culmination of that effort."

He continued, "This is not just for veterans, it's also for their families who are civilians. People overlook that."

Event attendees expressed their thoughts on the program.

"I'm proud at this age that I can attend," said 88-year-old Orby Ledbetter, a veteran and former POW. "Everybody should come instead of just barbecuing and running up and down the streets. This is a special day for me."

Ledbetter built the wood carving of Iwo Jima that was placed near the program's lectern.

John Benarczyk, 41, brought his son and his Boy Scout troop to the program.

"It's for the veterans. That's the whole reason why they are out of school. Instead of sitting at home watching TV, we thought they should show the veterans that they mean a lot to us," Benarczyk said. "Give them some support let them know we care about them."

Meanwhile, 10-year-old Garret Gutierrez shared his favorite part of the day.

"My favorite part was when we did the pledge of allegiance and they shot the guns," said Gutierrez. "I learned a lot of history today."

Riesz said he hopes the fallen veterans would be happy about the program put on to honor them.

"They would probably be glad we took the time to honor their memory."

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