Ways to honor those who serve may have grown each year. But the stories of aging veterans elicit an outpouring of respect and admiration that increases as their numbers decline and their steps slow.
On Nov. 11, veterans, families and friends gathered at the Tri-County Senior Center to honor living veterans. In the emotion of the discussion, relatives of patrons who have since died as well as those serving in active duty were added to the list.
In a room filled with veterans and relatives, as well as those who had lost veterans or soldiers in combat, Ed Hillhouse coordinated a program that encouraged accolades to honor the deceased.
A veteran who gears up each November to keep the memory of World War II alive, Cal Koelling said he was encouraged by his twin brother Alvin to enlist. His brother failed the physical and Cal went to war. Each year he talks about World War II with local students, often becoming the adoptive grandparent of students who need a veteran who is a relative for a history project.
Koelling, who was severely wounded in action, gave the invocation, which he ended with this thought.
“Some things are worth dying for, and this country is one of them.”
The area’s only Pearl Harbor survivor, Bill Hogue, was a 17-year-old sailor serving on the USS Crew in Pearl Harbor Bay on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when the surprise Japanese attack took place. Hogue led the Pledge of Allegiance for the event.
Hillhouse, who prefers informal programs to rigid agendas, asked, one table at a time, for each veteran to stand, recite his branch of service and years served.
Veterans in the room who stood were John Bradfield, Navy, served in Formosa, 1953-61; Steve Title, Navy, served in the Cuban Crisis; Harry Palmer, USAF during peacetime; Webster Pendler, Army, Battle of the Bulge, World War II; and Harold Wilson, Navy, Cuban Crisis 1959-63.
Unable to let go of the memories of loved ones, family members stood to recite the names and military service of relatives who died in combat or after their years of service.
They were Glenn Long who served in the Korean War 1951-52; Master Sgt. Michael Kelly, USAF; Kenneth Calvin, USAF, 1959; George Phillips, the only Franklin County Congressional Medal of Honor winner; Herbert Smith, Army, served with Gen. MacArthur in the Philippines; Raymond Ambuehl, Army, World War II, wounded while pulling down a German flag; Oliver Payne, killed in action in Korea, 1951, (Payne Street in Pacific is named for him); and Glenn Bandermann, Army, World War II.
Hillhouse read the narrative for the missing man place-setting that stood on a small table near the entrance to the front tables.
Hillhouse also recognized Jeannie Guffey and the volunteers at the senior center, saying that he had been in on the fundraising for the Helen Preiss Senior Center from the beginning and was aware of the perseverance it took to secure the building.
“The Helen Preiss Senior Center is part of the glue that holds this community together,” Hillhouse said.
State Sen. Brian Nieves told stories of his own service and his respect for those who served in combat. He read a moving narrative titled, “What is a Veteran.” By the time he finished there were few dry eyes in the house.
C. W. Porter used the event to deliver a $1,000 donation to the senior center from the Catawissa VFW post.
One group, many too young to be veterans, provided a whimsical bit of entertainment. The puppet troupe, Word2U Ministry, performed patriotic and religious songs.
Many patrons wore shoulder patches with photographs of family members in their service uniforms.
Karen Clark and her mother, Sue Long, were still grieving from the recent loss of Sue’s husband Glenn Long, who was a frequent patron of the senior center.
“He was here last year,” Sue said.
Wal-Mart made veterans shoulder patches about 10 years ago with veterans photos. Karen Clark had one made with the photo of her father.
“I’ve worn it every year on Veterans Day since,” she said
The romance for the years her husband served in the Army had never died for Hilda Bandermann, who also wore the photo of her late husband Glenn Bandermann in his Army uniform on her shoulder. “This is my sweetie,” she said.
Jessica Bailey sang “God Bless America” and the national anthem a cappella.
The emotional theme carried through to the end when Sandra Kelly-Aehle played taps in memory of her father, who married her mother, an English girl. “I never got to grow up in America. I wish I had,” she said.
One thing she wanted to do for her father was to play taps, she said.