"It's so good to be back in the South," said West Point cadet Kate Berfanzetti, formerly of Alabama. "The winter in New York has been very harsh," she added. Berfanzetti, a first year "plebe" at the military academy was the only female to make the trip south that included stops at historic battlefields, including a tour of the Petersburg Battlefield and the Wilson-Kantz trail in Staunton River Battlefield Park.
Berfanzetti, like the other 21 cadets, was impressed with the warm reception they received in the community. Spending the night at the historic Berry Hill Plantation, the group was honored with a dinner at Ernie's Restaurant where local veterans turned out to share their wartime experiences with the young cadets.
Among those were World War II local veterans were W.W."Dub" Wilkins, Allen Moorefield, Pete Myers, Bill Akers and Bill Haymes, formerly of South Boston, who drove down from Richmond specially for the event.
Douglas Powell, who coordinated the event told the group "you'll hear a lot of talk about the rag-tag militia of young boys and old men who fought to save the bridge which was so important to Confederate troops and you'll walk out over the stream and see the old earthenworks that played an important role in the Battle of the Staunton River Bridge when you visit Staunton River State Park tomorrow morning."
But it was the memories of his service in World War II that brought a standing ovation from the cadets who listened intently to what he had to say. Pete Myers described in detail his experiences of war when 6,000 members of his unit were killed in a one day in the battle of Omaha Beach off the shores of France. "We thought we had the protection of the Air Force, " Myers recalled. He later found out that weather conditions had forced the aircraft back, leaving his unit totally unprotected. " As I looked around," he remembered "seeing nothing but dead bodies and body parts flying around him."
Paul Steube, a retired Naval officer praised the work of the military calvary members, calling them the true heroes of war. Earlier a spokesman for the group said the purpose of the trip was to "familiarize Cavalry and Scout Club cadets with the cavalry operations in support of the Petersburg Campaign of May-July 1864 and apply those lessons to the current War on Terror, preparing them for service as combined arms leaders.
Other local veterans in attendance at the Friday night dinner were Carroll Thackston, Ted Daniel, Ronnie Guthrie, Dexter Gilliam, Paul Brandon, Frank Slayton, Joe Chandler and Kenneth Cassada.
Ranking cadets Keith Angwin and Chase Baker presented Thackston with a framed picture of West Point, thanking him for the community's hsopitality. It was the second consecutive trip here for the Club and one that will continue in the future, leaders announced Friday night. The trip and future trips will be sponsored by the parents of a cadet, Captain Andrew Houghton, a West Point graduate who died of injuries August 9, 2004 suffered in Iraq in July of that year.