The oldest railroad conductor in the United States was honored Saturday for his service in the military and in the railroad industry.
Officials with the Fort Smith Marine Corps League presented Haskell Jeffries, who turns 91 next month, with an award during a ceremony before “Troop Train” Day on Saturday morning at the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad Excursion Train depot in Van Buren. This is the second year the League has held this kind of ceremony at the train station, which has given free train rides to veterans on the Saturday before Memorial Day for more than 10 years, train conductor Casey Jones said.
“It’s a wonderful idea,” Jon Baker, deputy veteran service officer of the Sebastian County Veterans Office and a Navy veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, said about the ceremony.
Jones, a Vietnam War veteran and League member himself, said the ceremony drew league members “from three states, and all over Arkansas.” Some of the league members participated in a gun salute, presentation of the colors and playing of taps prior to the presentation of the awards.
Veterans of the Iraq War, Operation Desert Storm and the Vietnam War attended the ceremony. Jeffries said he was “honored to be among” the veterans at the ceremony on Saturday.
“I don’t like to be picked out as one person when there are so many people here,” he said. “We’re all brothers of the same skin.”
While some League members actively participated in the ceremony, others, like Fort Smith Marine Corps League chapter official Ed Anderson, simply enjoyed the ceremony. Anderson, a Marine Corps veteran, said the Saturday ceremony was held just before the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I, where the marines earned the nickname “devil dogs.”
Anderson said it’s “always an honor to get together” with other veterans, and that the ceremony allows him to do that.
“The camaraderie with the Marine Corps and also with the other branches of service is really special for all of us veterans. It’s almost like a family reunion,” he said about the ceremony. “Everybody gets together and talks about the previous year, and we also meet new vets.”
After the ceremony, the veterans and those who came with them boarded the train, which took them to Winslow.
“It shows the veterans, it shows the spouses, it shows the families that we’re not forgotten,” Baker said of the ceremony.