The newest names on the granite stones of the Veterans Memorial on the northeast lawn of the Ellis County Courthouse are from 2011. Two graduates of Hays high schools, they were killed in the same helicopter: Bryan J. Nichols and David R. Carter.
“They were pilots in a Chinook when it got blown out of the sky in Afghanistan,” explained Stan Dreiling.
Dreiling and Virgil Weigel on Friday were not even half finished with their volunteer work at the monument placing one flag for each Ellis County resident who died serving in the military.
Carter was a graduate of Hays High School, said Dreiling, while Nichols graduated from Thomas More Prep.
As part of their annual Memorial Day routine, Dreiling and his fellow Vietnam veteran Weigel on Thursday placed more than 1,200 flags on the graves of veterans buried at the Mount Allen and St. Joseph cemeteries for Memorial Day.
Dreiling mentioned Friday he’s among the last of the veterans who launched the courthouse memorial back in 1988.
“Membership is going downhill at the VFW,” Dreiling said of Hays VFW Post 9076. “We’ve had a lot of funerals since 1972, that I’ve had the honor of attending along with my other comrades. It’s quite an honor; I’m glad we’re able to do it.”
The VFW averages between 40 and 50 veterans funerals a year now, Dreiling said, adding that of the World War II vets, there are fewer than 20 left in Ellis County, the most recent to go was Calvin Harbin.
“We lost Col. Harbin two weeks ago, he was 104, he’s Sheriff (Ed) Harbin’s dad,” Dreiling said. “That’s the greatest generation; boy that’s the truth, bar none. They’re war heroes.”
Dreiling was in the 326th Engineer battalion, 101st Airborne Division.
As for Weigel, “I never went overseas. I just stayed stateside,” Weigel said. “Army. I was in communications. Fort Bragg, North Carolina, ’60 to ’62.”
When it comes to membership and community service, Dreiling says the Hays post can’t be beat.
“In these small towns, we really take care of our veterans,” Dreiling said. “The VFW Post here in Hays, Kansas, is probably the best one in the state.”
Hays has a Vietnam Veterans organization as well.
“That’s unusual too,” Dreiling said. “We’ve been blessed.”