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Navy Veteran Makes Wooden Figures As Tribute to Comrades

Clifford “Chip” Shank wants to make sure his fellow veterans and their families get the respect they deserve.

Shank said he served in the Navy in Da Nang, Vietnam, and was there for the Tet Offensive, a campaign of surprise attacks that began on a major Vietnamese holiday.

“Spent four years in the Navy; I was never on a ship,” Shank said, adding that he has gotten some ribbing for that distinction.

Shank serves in the Lancaster Vet 21 Salute Honor Guard, a group that goes to veterans’ funerals to make sure the veterans get a dignified ceremony. But Shank said he is concerned that that kind of service won’t last.

“The younger generation isn’t stepping up. … I don’t see it continuing after we’re gone,” Shank said.

One active member of the group was Charles V. Ferich, who died in 2013 at the age of 90. Shank noted that Ferich was unable to fire the ceremonial guns, but still made a point to show up.

“All he did was salute, and he went to every veteran funeral there was,” Shank said.

Shank said his group mostly goes to funerals in Lancaster County and nearby areas, but has gotten calls from faraway places including New York, Texas and California. He said he told the callers that the group would go if their travel expenses were paid for, but so far none have accepted that offer. He said his group is willing to help others organize similar groups in other areas.

“It hasn’t taken shape yet. I don’t know if it ever will,” Shank said.

In addition to his service at veterans’ funerals, Shank has been making wooden figures of service members. The figures are about 1½ feet tall and represent people from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces as well as others, such as the next of kin at a funeral receiving a folded flag.

“Probably 10 years I’ve been making these,” Shank said, noting that they are made of cypress wood to keep them from rotting.

Shank said he only has a small display at his home most of the time, but puts out more around Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

“The two National Guard guys with the coffin there — that originated from Indiantown Gap,” Shank said when showing the figures on display at his home in Rapho Township near Mount Joy. The figures also include a WAVE and a WAC to represent women in the armed forces. (The WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, were the women’s branch of the Naval Reserve during World War II; WAC, or Women’s Army Corps, was the women’s branch of the Army.)

Shank said while attending military funerals, he has seen various things that inspire his artwork.

“I go, ‘I can make a wooden figure out of that.’ So I go home and draw it up and make it,” Shank said.

He said he enjoys the process.

“It’s just a pleasure to do this, to make these people. Every one’s different,” Shank said.

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