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In Nation & World | Haley says Tillerson, Kelly tried to recruit her to subvert Trump | Page A8
The Clover Hill High School marching band will make its way through the streets of Manhattan on Monday playing a medley of patriotic tunes in honor of the nation’s veterans.
The Chesterfield County high school band is performing at the 100th annual New York City Veterans Day Parade, an event that the Clover Hill High School Marching Cavaliers performed at a decade ago.
“It’s a big honor to get to perform in the parade. They do have limited number of spots,” said Brianna Gatch, the Clover Hill band director. “We wanted to have the experience, and especially it being the centennial parade, we knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids.”
President Donald Trump is expected to speak during the opening ceremony at the parade, according to the United War Veterans Council, the nonprofit group that’s organizing the event.
“They are super excited and are elated at the news that the president is going to be in attendance at the parade,” Gatch said of the Clover Hill band members.
More than 25,000 participants are expected to take part in the parade, including veterans and active-duty military personnel, the veterans group said. Bands and floats will march past spectators lining Fifth Avenue, it said in a statement.
The parade will be led by five grand marshals who are veterans from conflicts going back to World War II. Among the marshals leading the parade are former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., and Zachary Iscol, a decorated Marines Corps officer who fought in Fallujah, Iraq.
The band will play a medley of “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “America the Beautiful.”
Dave Moffatt, a trip chaperone whose daughter Riley plays the piccolo in the Marching Cavaliers, said she’s been looking forward to taking part in the parade.
“It’s a unique experience, the fact that she’s marching in the Veterans Day parade. We’ve had family in the military, so it’s a good way to honor our veterans,” Moffatt said.
What developers behind the $1.5 billion plan to redevelop downtown have touted as a “community benefit” has turned into a sticking point for some on the Richmond City Council.
The number of affordable housing units in the footprint of the mixed-use development proposed by NH District Corp. does not comply with a council policy established earlier this year.
The policy requires developers seeking deals with the city to reserve at least 15% of any housing planned for families earning less than the area’s median income.
NH District Corp.’s plan for the publicly owned land it is seeking to buy from the city calls for 2,124 units, with 280, or about 13%, reserved.
“The absence of any subsidy, incentives or abatements for the Navy Hill project is part of the calculus of how we arrived at our 280 affordable unit figure,” said Susan Eastridge, a developer working with NH District Corp. on the project. Increasing the number of affordable units would require a city subsidy, Eastridge said.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration told the council earlier this month that increasing the number of affordable units in the 10-block area where NH District Corp.’s buildings are slated to go “may affect project feasibility” and require “further negotiation.”
To satisfy the council policy requirement, NH District Corp. would have to convert 39 of the market rate units in the project’s footprint into affordable ones. Alternately, if the developers would rather keep the same number of market rate units, they would have to add 46 affordable ones in the project’s footprint to clear the bar.
With its policy, the council aimed to compel private developers to address the shortage of housing reserved for families earning less than the area’s median income. As housing prices continue to climb across the region, tenants are facing higher rents that limit their choices. City officials and housing advocates have said in recent years that the crunch necessitates new affordable housing stock, particularly in areas with access to jobs and adequate public transportation.
Whether NH District Corp.’s housing plan is tailored to benefit city residents specifically is an issue for some on the council.
When the new development would open in 2023, rent for a one-bedroom apartment would cost $1,073 for a person making 60% of the region’s median income or $1,431 for a person making 80% of it. A household seeking a two-bedroom — the largest unit planned in the development — would pay $1,287 for an income-restricted unit at 60% of the region’s income or $1,717 for one restricted at 80%, according to figures provided to the council.
The region’s median income averages figures for 17 localities in the metropolitan area. Affordable units in the development would be reserved for households making 60% or 80% of that figure. For a household of one, the income limit to qualify for a 60% unit is $36,300. At 80%, it is $48,400.
“That, to me, seems like we’re not necessarily prioritizing low-income residents of Richmond for our affordable housing,” Councilman Parker Agelasto said at the most recent council work session on the project. “Instead, it allows for people who make a greater income to qualify for the same housing when we’re actually trying to help Richmond residents.”
Using a city-specific figure would set a lower income threshold for prospective renters, increasing access for families for whom finding high-quality housing is harder, Agelasto said. Using a city-specific income threshold would reserve the units for people earning as little as $24,000 annually, he argued.
Eastridge said the decision to use the Area Median Income is necessary to line up lenders willing to finance the project. NH District Corp. is privately sourcing $900 million for the first phase of construction, when the units in question would be built.
“Those sources rely on regional AMI in their underwriting. In other words, using city versus regional metrics would make the residential buildings with affordable units unfinanceable,” Eastridge said.
The issue arose during a council work session on the proposal earlier this month. The Stoney administration endorsed the project last November, and released it to the public in August, after 17 months of closed-door negotiations with the development group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II.
The work sessions are one component of the council’s ongoing review. It is also in the process of hiring a consultant to vet the proposal. A separate panel the council seated is carrying out its own study and must issue a report of its findings next month.
In addition to new apartments and condos, the proposal calls for a 17,500-seat arena that would replace the Richmond Coliseum; a high-rise hotel; 1 million square feet of commercial and office space; 260,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; renovation of the historic Blues Armory; a new transfer plaza for GRTC Transit System bus riders; and infrastructure improvements.
An additional 200 income-restricted units are slated to rise downtown under the plan. Where, exactly, is unclear.
Under its proposed agreement with the city, NH District Corp. must help the Better Housing Coalition raise $10 million to build the additional units. The development group is working with the nonprofit to buy a site for it. They have not secured one to date, Eastridge said.
“Because a lot of time has passed since the city negotiations have concluded, possible sites have come and gone,” she said.
The Stoney administration has said surplus tax revenue the project could generate would fund the construction of “hundreds” more affordable units if the council approves the project. A package of ordinances advancing it appears on the agenda for the council’s meeting Tuesday.
A vote on the project is not scheduled.
The first contact came almost a decade ago when Nell O’Brien, as readers sometimes do, offered a story tip: a friend in her town — she lived in Chase City at the time — had been born in England, survived the German bombing of World War II and after the war had settled in the small town in Southside Virginia.
The hook? The woman turned 109 in 2010.
O’Brien, who once aspired to be a journalist, knows a good story when she sees one.
Since then, the emails have arrived typically at least a couple of times a week, commenting on what I’ve written or another story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch or generally the world at large. Her observations are insightful, often funny and very much to the point. She doesn’t mess around.
She also has sent me travel tips from trips she and her late husband took to places around the world and even has included copies of her journals and brochures from those adventures if she finds out my wife and I are headed in those directions. She is very organized. Who keeps travel notes from 30 or 40 years ago? And even if we kept them, who among us could find them?
Our correspondence has been a delight, which is why I half-jokingly describe O’Brien as my (email) pen pal. However, we had not met face to face until last month when photographer Bob Brown and I dropped by for a visit at the home of her daughter, Cecile, in Hanover County, where O’Brien now lives.
She is 94.
O’Brien and her granddog, Roonie (aka “King of the Castle”), a friendly West Highland terrier who stays by her side, greeted us at the door. It was like a reunion with a lifelong friend I’d never met.
She gave us a quick tour of the part of the house where she spends much of her time, noting that like a lot of people who need to downsize in later years, she has had to greatly reduce the number of her possessions and has become “a lesson in how to get along with less.”
How’s that working out?
“Fine,” she said. For anyone who grew up in the Great Depression, as she did, “this is luxury.”
She showed us the stories behind family photographs and offered a couple of favorite paperbacks to take to our wives (she’s an avid reader, and these were among her favorites, written by Rosamunde Pilcher, a British author of romance novels). She pointed out the computer where she composes those emails and pokes around the web. I complimented her on her willingness to embrace the changing technological landscape.
“I love it,” she said. “It is a blessing, but I have friends who will not get near a computer. I love mine.”
Through the years, I’ve learned a bit about O’Brien, including that she grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and wanted to attend the University of North Carolina and study journalism. But there wasn’t money to do so and, after a period in Quantico while her husband, Wyatt, served in the Marine Corps, she wound up in Chase City, where Wyatt managed a pharmacy, working with his brother, who was the pharmacist.
“He was born to sell,” she said of Wyatt, who died in 2008 after 64 years of marriage, “and he loved it.”
Within her family, she is known as “Bam,” which was acquired “through my inability to pronounce Gram, and a more perfect description of how she punches through life could not have been given,” said granddaughter Meghan O’Brien Lowery.
“My memories of her are woven with maps, journals of her travels, descriptions of foreign lands and great stories filled with her infectious laughter,” said Lowery, who has worked in philanthropic and nonprofit sectors focusing on animal and human rights and is now director of The Greenbaum Foundation, an international organization that funds projects working to bring about the end of suffering, human and non-human.
“As a young curious intellect, my grandmother didn’t have the option to attend college or satiate her unending desire to explore and learn,” Lowery said. “This passion was injected into my young mind, thus inspiring me to travel, change the planet and interact with every possible opportunity. I very consciously live my life to fulfill not only my dreams and yearning but hers; to share a collective experience that each of us can learn from.”
During the course of our correspondence over the years, I also learned that O’Brien lost an older brother in World War II.
Sgt. William LeVerne Jeffries, serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces, was an engineer and waist gunner on a B-17 bomber dubbed “The Bad Check.” In the military, he was known as “Jeff.” At home, he was just LeVerne. He and all but one other member of the crew died Feb. 10, 1944, when their plane collided with another U.S. B-17 over Germany, on only its third mission.
Years later, O’Brien visited and interviewed the lone survivor, who was captured by the Germans and held in prisoner-of-war camps, and she provided me a transcript from that meeting. The survivor told her the other plane was from another squadron and in the wrong place.
O’Brien was a teen when her brother went into service, and I asked what she remembered about him as he was growing up.
“He had a voice like an angel,” she said. “A tenor. He was in several choirs. He was outstanding.”
LeVerne was only 23 when he died. O’Brien answered the door at home when the telegram arrived.
“They handed me the telegram, and I took it to Mother, and that’s how she learned of it,” O’Brien said, tears welling in her eyes.
O’Brien showed us yellowed newspaper clippings that mentioned her brother, who was buried first at Margraten, an American military cemetery in the Netherlands. His mother later had LeVerne’s remains moved to a cemetery in Raleigh.
“She never got over it,” O’Brien said of her mother. “She lived to be 97 and, when she died, she had buried her three sons.”
As the next-to-youngest of four children, O’Brien is the only one left.
She said, “I keep wondering, ‘What am I here for?’”
I can think of a lot of reasons.
We talked about that first story that brought us together, the May 2011 article I wrote about Marion Kate “Kitty” Sawyer, who was on the verge of turning 110 when I showed up to talk to her. She recounted how she had remained in her home in the suburbs of London despite the German blitz and bombings that shook loose pieces of the ceiling and blew out the windows.
“If I was going to be killed, I was going to be killed in my house,” Sawyer said, still defiant at 109. “I wasn’t going to have any German tell me I had to leave my house.”
She sounds a little like someone else I know.
Sawyer died in February 2013, at age 111.
O’Brien has a ways to go to hit that mark, and she has a lot of talent to carry with her. This is a woman who, besides being an elegant writer, was a watercolorist before Wyatt retired and they started traveling the world. But that’s not all.
“Let me tell you, I’m a singer,” she said. “Have been all my life.”
She then proceeded to tell us a great story about her singing.
She and Wyatt were on a cruise aboard the Queen Mary. They were sitting in a lounge, listening to a six-piece group playing jazz, and the emcee was going around with a microphone letting passengers sing. He introduced the next song: the jazz standard, “Deed I Do.”
“I said, ‘Oh, Wyatt, I know that, and it’s a good key for me,’” she recalled. “I don’t know if [the emcee] heard me, but he came to me first, and he poked that microphone in my face. I sang it, baby! I ripped through that. It was the most fun I’ve ever had singing.”
“I’ve had a great life,” she said. “I try to be prepared every day, you know, not to be here. We don’t expect to die, but I’m not afraid of it. I’ve really had a good time.”
Retired Maj. John Jacobs spent Saturday playing golf and attending a U.S. Marine Corps Ball in Richmond with more than 100 fellow Marines. Jacobs, who lives in Bedford County, said the reunion’s setting was quite different than exactly 15 years ago, when the Marines of Kilo Company “marched straight into hell.”
“We crossed the line of departure into Fallujah on Nov. 9, 2004,” Jacobs said. “For the next few weeks, it was a muzzle-to-muzzle slugfest.”
The Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines — who came to the reunion in Richmond from across the United States — fought together during the Second Battle of Fallujah, considered the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War.
The battle was the first major engagement of the war fought solely against insurgents, who had taken over the city months earlier. During the fighting in November-December 2004, 82 U.S. service members were killed in the city and more than 600 wounded in action; about 2,000 insurgents were reported killed.
Jacobs, a 2nd lieutenant leading a platoon during the battle, said more than half of Kilo Company’s 250 men were wounded and six killed during the fighting.
“It was intense,” Jacobs said. “There was very little to no rest for the first couple of weeks.”
Jacobs said the Marines fought house by house, street by street and block by block against the insurgent forces — stopping only at night to seek shelter in a secured building.
“The city had no power and it would be pitch black at night,” Jacobs said. “As soon as dawn would break, we would be right back at it until dusk.”
Four days after Jacobs led his platoon into the city, Kilo Company became involved in what is known as the Hell House battle, immortalized in a sculpture outside Camp Lejeune, N.C.
That day, a group of Marines entered a house in the city and killed an insurgent hiding behind a door, which alerted two insurgents on the roof and another in the stairwell to the Marines’ presence in the building.
Two insurgents fired into the house from a skylight and dropped grenades, wounding one of the Marines in the house. As reinforcements from Kilo Company entered the house, they were fired upon by the insurgents inside and, within moments, at least eight Marines were trapped inside the house, six of them wounded.
When Maj. Jesse Grapes — a 1st lieutenant leading a Kilo Company platoon during the battle — called for backup, Jacobs and his men responded. They had spent the night before in a house about 75 yards away from where the firefight was taking place.
“That’s how close the fighting was,” Jacobs said. “You knew the enemy could be right next door or even in the next room.”
Jacobs said he and Grapes devised a rescue plan where a number of Marines would take cover in a doorway and shoot up into the house’s second floor at the same time, providing covering fire for another group of Marines to enter into the “kill zone” and pull the wounded Marines to safety. Jacobs said the plan was risky, but necessary.
“The only thing going through our minds was rescuing our fellow Marines,” Jacobs said. “We were not thinking about anything else at the time.”
The plan worked and Jacob’s men were able to rescue several wounded Marines while he provided covering fire. On the other side of the house, several Marines knocked down a wall of a bedroom sheltering more Marines trapped in the house and rescued them.
In the span of a few minutes, 11 Marines were wounded and one killed in the Hell House, Jacobs said.
“That was a lot of gunfire going around in a house that was only about 1,100 square feet,” Jacobs said. “It was pretty rough. However, we got our guys out and then turned our attention to the insurgents inside.”
After the Marines were rescued, Grapes sent an explosives expert inside with a satchel charge of C4, a plastic explosive, which destroyed the house.
Photographs of the Hell House fight, which were taken by photographer Lucian Read, became the most iconic images of the Second Battle of Fallujah and the inspiration for the Camp Lejeune sculpture.
However, Jacobs said the Hell House fight was not an isolated incident during the house-to-house fighting.
“Lucian’s photographs made it famous, but there were things like this happening all over the city,” Jacobs said. “That happened during our first few days. There still were weeks of fighting ahead of us.”
Jacobs said during the next few weeks, he and his men often took shelter in the same building they stayed in the night before the Hell House fight.
“We were constantly having to go back and clear the same houses and streets,” Jacobs said. “Some days it seemed we were fighting up a street in the morning and fighting back down the same street that afternoon.”
During the weeks of intense fighting, Jacobs said he was comforted by the knowledge that supplies coming to the Marines in the city were being sent by his wife, Veronica, a Marine officer stationed a few miles outside of the city.
“Whenever we would get food, medical supplies or cold-weather gear, I knew that Ronni was the one in charge of sending it to us,” Jacobs said.
Direct communication, though, was not possible.
“We couldn’t get any communications out for about two weeks,” Jacobs said. “I knew she was pretty stressed out because she could stand on top of a bunker and see the explosions all over the city. One day, Lucian was emailing some pictures out so they could get into magazines and newspapers and I was able to send my wife a quick email letting her know I was OK.”
Jacobs’ wife said waiting to hear news about her husband during the fighting was “excruciating.”
“It was awful,” she said. “It was hard to communicate even at that close a distance because there was no power and the city and the electronics they did have were closely monitored for security reasons.”
What was even worse, she said, was seeing the casualty list each day when she reported for duty.
“Every morning when we would have our meeting, I would see the casualty board,” Ronni said. “Not knowing whose name I would see on that board each time I saw it was nauseating.”
Fifteen years later, she is still amazed at what the men of Kilo Company experienced during the battle.
“It takes time to reflect on how monumental what they went through really was,” she said. “John and those men are simply amazing.”
Members of Kilo Company were awarded two Navy Crosses, six Bronze Stars and a number of other decorations during the Second Battle of Fallujah. One of the Bronze Stars was awarded to Jacobs for his actions during the Hell House battle.
“Two Navy Crosses and a handful of Bronze Stars came out of that one fight,” he said.
After his deployment to Fallujah, Jacobs was deployed two more times to Iraq — the first to the city of Haditha and then to city of Ramadi.
Jacobs, a native of Santa Cruz, Calif., now works for Genworth in Lynchburg, a city he had never heard of until he was deployed to Iraq in 2004.
“I was assigned some combat engineers that were in the Marine Reserves out of Lynchburg and I didn’t even know where that was,” Jacobs said. “Years later, Genworth moved me out here to the same place those guys that helped me clear mines and explosives out were from.”
Jacobs said 15 years later, he often thinks back on his experiences in Iraq and during the Second Battle of Fallujah.
“It’s impossible not to,” he said. “However, after leading men into something like that, it is hard to feel challenged. Nothing will ever match the challenge of that time in my life.”
Jacobs said his thoughts also frequently turn to his former comrades from Kilo Company as well.
“It was a very seminal time,” Jacobs said. “The weak and the cowardly were not there with me. The men I was surrounded by were the brave and stout of heart. Being surrounded and serving with people of that quality and caliber is not something that will ever be duplicated.”
Jacobs said he and Grapes — who now lives in Richmond — started planning this weekend’s reunion about a year ago, reaching out to as many Kilo Company members as they could through social media.
“A lot of the guys would really chat with each other about November of each year,” Jacobs said. “We knew we wanted to do something for our 15th anniversary.”
Jacobs said large donations from Smithfield-based Smithfield Foods, the Hope for the Warriors veteran organization and a number of organizations in Richmond allowed the reunion to be held at no cost to the Kilo Company veterans and their families.
“We are so grateful to have received so much support,” Jacobs said. “Everyone has been amazing and they are the reason this reunion happened. This is bringing a lot of people together that are like family and that is a good thing.”