Monday, October 9, 2017

Grasping at Atonement - Lehighton's Viet Nam Last Man's Club 49th Banquet

Divisions still remain.  Some old.  Some renewed.

My speech was meant as a peace offering from my generation back to theirs.  That our generation, the one that grew up in the shadow of their shaming, was here to try to understand them, that at the least, we wish nothing less for them than their full atonement.
Ed Hoats was a founding leader of the club with his brother-in-law
Bruce Geary.  Ronald Christman worked for PP&L after his service
time.  He died of a heart attack at a fairly young age.  He should not be
confused with the other Vietnam-era of the same name, Marine Lance Cpl
Ronald S. H. Christman who was killed in February 1968.

But it was not our battle.  We were not the ones who turned their back to their struggle.  We could not atone for that.  Best we can offer is to not forsake them now.  

To promise them that we will remember, who they were and what they gave.

Vietnam.  We were involved there before Korea.  And still, we weren’t ready.

While they were chasing ghosts in the jungle, our country was tearing itself apart.

Sitting down at the 49th Annual Viet Nam Last Man’s Club dinner last night I was struck by how things change and how they stay the same.
Ronald Stewart Henry Christman -
1 June 1948 to 28 February 1968
Landed in southern Vietnam on January 3rd
with the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadren
262.  In his last letter home dated 21 February,
Christman stated how his was the only unit
flying in and out of Khe Sanh with an estimated
40,000 communist ranks of soldiers below.
Perhaps unknowable is the strain on the parents
in burying their children.  Ronald's mother
Lousie died five years later at the age of 47.

Obviously these men that served fifty years ago have changed (aged) a good deal.  But what was plainly abundant was their commitment to the country they served and especially their commitment to each other.

I had the pleasure of sitting with VNLMC President Dale Nansteel and Sgt.-At-Arms Mitchell Nace and his wife Linda.  Also joining us was former Lehighton teacher and Kutztown University professor Dr. Dale Titus. 

Titus was a navy veteran who served in Viet Nam from 1967 to 1968. He shared several keen observations, including how welcomed he felt in the streets of South Vietnam upon a return visit there. 
Dr. Dale Titus, served in the navy
in Vietnam and former Lehighton
area teacher and professor emeritus
at Kutztown University.

He found citizens of his era walking up to him thanking him for his service and how they too fought on the side of the South.

Which brings me to the point of my message that evening: To measure what we have lost and what we have gained and to gather a sense of atonement from it all.

(This remainder of this article is both a paraphrase of my words as well as a record of this 49th banquet.  

The pictures of this post were presented to those in attendance via a PowerPoint presentation.  My attempt to bridge my understanding of them to their service.)

I can only imagine that it hasn’t been easy for you.

Conflict was a euphemism for the war.


Specifically, what your generation has lost and what it has given could easily be overlooked.

Recently, the Legion sold the Franz Kline mural 'Lehighton.'  This has been a cause that has divided opinion among some.  And Franz Kline too, in his short life, experience conflict as well.

Your generation and Kline both share a common distinction: you both suffered through loss and conflict.  

But we cannot go back.  We should try not to live in regret.  It is easy to allow nostalgia linger and feed those feelings.
The Lehighton Legion Menu from the early

The seafood platter served at the 49th annual club dinner was nearly
identical to the platter routinely served at the Legion in the 1950s.
But it is also where the roots of your generation’s war were, the beginnings of Vietnam.

The Vietnam ‘Conflict.’  We all know those who were in the thick of it knew it as war,
And you gathered here know more than most, how war certainly is hell.

Bill Kirkendall was a B-52 tail-gunner
with 50 missions over Europe.
Sons like David grew up in the shadow
of their fahters' glories of WWII.
For them, Vietnam was a bitter pill
to swallow.

Petty Officer David
Kirkendall served
September 1967 to
November 1971.  He was killed
in a car accident back home in
August 1972.
His Japanese wife Sumi and son
Frank were in Japan at the time.
Frank grew up to join the navy.
He died in 2007 at the age of

To add insult to injury, you couldn’t even talk about it.

Fellow veterans didn’t even dare mention their prior service to strangers, and in some cases, those strangers were veterans themselves, afraid to mention the war to new acquaintances.

Your father’s fought a glorious war, you hung around in the shadows of their popular service.

Gene Semanoff - Served in the Air
Force during Vietnam.
Gene's father, Joe Semanoff served in the
101st Airborne in Europe.

You have gathered here to honor the memory of those fallen from us and to celebrate those who are still here.

All of us are the sum of all our parts.  And sometimes we can realize how we can be greater than the sum of our parts.  This is true for this group.  This is true for you as an individual.   All of you have been molded by the Vietnam era.

You are gallant.

You are gentle men and you are gentle ladies.
Glen "Smokey" Troutman (VNLMC VP), Randy Rabenold (Korean Last Man's Club), Henry Long, Captain Pete Semanoff, and father Gene Semanoff at a 2014 Memorial Day Service at the Lehighton Area Middle School.

Glenn "Smokey" Troutman from his Lehighton yearbook along with fellow Vietnam veteran classmate Gary Vanage.  Gary's name was added to the list of the dead honored at each year's banquet in 2005.
You are heroes.

You have served us well, and we the community of Lehighton are better for having fine men and women like you who she can call her sons and her daughters.

As a historian and fellow son of Lehighton, a son of a Korean War soldier, I want you to know, how grateful I am to you.  I am proud to have grown up under the shadow of your great and self-less serving and sacrifice.

I hope you will accept my deepest gratitude.

Near the end of our conversation, Dr. Titus made one last observation.

Our modern fleet ships are built differently: Gone are the side-decks, staffing is down, and with everything so dependent on sonar, control is made from a windowless room.   He believed these were the conditions that have lead to the current spate of collisions.

In other words, the new navy is so stealthy that command and control is left with a limited view.  
Clearly the WWII veterans vanquished an evil and were
victorious.  The Korean Vets, though far from a complete
victory, has had been granted many shows of gratitude
from the South Korean government over the years.
Though relations between Vietnam and the West
have recently improved, our Vietnam veterans
have not received the same regard as their fathers

Perhaps that is where atonement can begin, in seeing the whole picture.

It was suggested by Titus to find a Vietnamese refugee that found a new home here in America to speak at next year's banquet.

Surely these veterans could find some solace in hearing a survivor's story, someone who has benefited from their toil and sacrifice.

After the toast to the dead with the red wine and the toast to the living with the white, names of VNLMC members who died in the previous year were named: Al Buchignani, Stewart Alboucq, Robert Emmert, and Gary Neifert.

VNLMC Chaplain Sue Snyder offered both the opening and closing prayer.  And Sec/Treas David Bryfolge wished for prayers to all in attendance that they will once again be with them in 2018.
Multiple generations of Lehighton soldiers could celebrate
their service with pride.  Here Marines from WWI to Korea join in celebrating
the Marine Corps' 193rd birthday in 1968.  Absent is a representative
of that current war.  Vietnam vets found it tougher to receive
public recognition for their service.  Shown here are (l-r): WWII Walter Metzger, Frank Wehr of Summit Hill, Korea Don Blauch, and WWI Charles Shutt (who was best known for firing the cannon at Lehighton home football games.  Don Blauch's daughter was a member of the VNLMC.

End Notes:
The following names are recorded by the club as those who were killed in action and those members who have since died of other causes.
The former high school/junior high in Lehighton was recently named
after Pfc Clyde Houser who was lived just down the street
on South St before moving to Held St on Union Hill.

KIA: Ronald S.H. Christman (Not to be confused with the Ronald Christman pictured earlier.)
Clyde R. Houser Jr.
Leon D. Eckhart
Charles R. Jones
Merlin Hollenbach
Twenty-one year old Merlin Hollenbach had visited
back home to Lehighton between boot camp and
landing in Vietnam.  His good-byes are still
remembered as prophetic to his friends who look
back at that time.

Newly married, arrived in Vietnam
on his 21st birthday.  He died 3 days
before Christmas, 1968.

Subsequent Deaths:
Charles Ahner, Douglas Beck, Henry Beck, William Beck, Douglas Beers, Robert Beers, Wilmer Berger, Donna Blauch, Kenneth Bretz, Ronald Christman, William Crowley, Bert David, Richard Dean, Warren Dresher, Ernest Eidem, Dennis Exner, Dean Gilbert, William Graver, Kermit Heiland, Robert Q. Koch, Robert Horvath, Raymond Heiland, David Kirkendall, Edward Korastinsky, Robert Lewis, Albert Lichenwalter, David Mertz, Harold Long, Harr D. Miller, Walter S. Metzger, Charles Moser, Robert G. Mowery, Donald Niehoff, Donald Reichard, Richard J. Richter, Carl Schoenberger, Joe J. Slanina, Terry Snyder, Kenneth Snyder, Gary G. Solt, Philip I. Stiegerwalt, Dennis Sullivan, Gary Vanage, Lee F. Wentz, Neal E. Yehl, Jim Young, Charles Yenser, Edward Zellner, Thomas V. Smith, Fred Young, William M. Graver Sr., Robert Yanero, Charles Solt III, Warren E. Long Sr., Ronald E. Taschler, Donald E. Ziegenfus, Dennis Sander, Thomas A. Meehan, Leroy A. Hefflefinger, Thomas C. Geshel, John S. Kobal, Thomas A. Polk, William C. Newton Jr., Leonard K. Zellner, John Kriel, Paul Hancharik, James Holland, Larry E. Smith, Robert C. Stien, Robert G. Moser, Warren R. Remaley, Dennis C. Dotter, Roger L. Kocher, Conrad A. Stahre, Martin L. Rex, George N. Kraftician, Dana Beisel, Richard Beltz, Lamont Hunsicker, Carl Everett.  
From the 1971 Lehighton yearbook.
Holland was a member of the Lehighton
Fire Company, served on the school board,
and a member of the VNLMC.

Daughter of Korean war Veteran Donald Blauch, Donna Blauch
enlisted out of Lehighton High in the early 1970s.  She rose in the
naval ranks and served President Carter's family as their personal
dental hygienist working on them at Camp David.  She died due to
complications of M.S. at the Wilkes-Barre V.A. Hospital in 2007.

Within the past year:
Al Buchignani, Stewart A. Alboucq, Robert N. Emmert, and Gary Neifert.

Major Laurence J. Law was
married to cousin Patsy Stegura
Law (her mother was my father's
sister).  He volunteered for Vietnam
and received the Silver Star, the
military's third highest honor. 

My cousin Patricia Stegura Law of Nanticoke's husband.

The Morning Call - February 1966

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lehighton's 1936 Borough Hall Cornerstone Time-Capsule

Lehighton was a thriving town.  Though it was at the height of the Great Depression, people in town had reason to be optimistic.  Lehighton was innovating itself: Dr. Lentz got his first X-ray machine installed in his office.

Contents of the 1936 time-capsule were first frozen for
eight months.  The freeze-dried process worked
exceedingly well.  However the items were still saturated
and needed drying.  Here the author hangs the documents
on June 16, 2017.

The Police Department modernized with a teletype machine, a .45-caliber machine gun, and bullet-proof glass windshield on its patrol-car.  This is in addition to the motor-cycle it purchased.

One newspaper article boasted that "Cupid laughed at the depression in Carbon County..." with 463 marriage licences issued in 1935.  1934 was equally a high year for weddings.  Both 1934 and 1935 beat out 1933 by 77.

Lehighton High's gymnastic team was on a streak as seven-time gymnastic champions.

(THIS POST IS A WORK IN PROGRESS - Please check back later in August for complete time-capsule contents and updated story content.  Thank you for your patience.)
Two seventy-year-plus traditions were in their infancy: The Senior Class attended the Mountain Lake House for its outing and 221 members of Lehigh Fire Co #1 held their annual August clambake at he Fair Grounds.

And with Lehighton new and modern Borough Hall, it seemed like nothing could hold our town down.

It all started when the building that housed the former Borough Chambers and Lehigh Fire Company #1 was deemed unsafe.  Built in 1893 and already showing signs of bulging walls by 1910, it was demolished by 1935 by a Works Progress Administration labor crew at a cost of $4,286.

By application to the Public Works Administration, another Depression-era recovery program, furnished 45% of the capital needed to build a new hall.  Ground was broken on March 4 and quickly ready for a dedication ceremony on Sunday May 10, 1936.

The program was extensive.  There was a concert by the Lehighton Band as well as the Boys’ Band followed by a prayer by Rev F. Theodore Miner.

Speakers were Chairman and Borough Solicitor George E. Gray, Historian and Superintendent of Schools Bert David, and Dr. Clarence Weiss, a direct descendent of Lehighton’s benefactor Jacob Weiss.  Chief Burgess (Mayor) William Zahn laid the cornerstone.
Which brings us back to today.

A few weeks after the dedication however things went sour for Mayor Zahn.  A farmer from Mahoning Valley, Wallace Drumheller, pinned Zahn's leg against a parked car and his as Drumheller swung his car into a parking spot in front of the new Borough Hall.  Many were said to gap as they drove by the modern new building.

Mayor Zahn's condition was serious.  He spent over two-weeks in the Palmerton Hospital.  An ambulance had to deliver Zahn home when he continued weeks of bed-rest.  Zahn was the owner of the Lehighton News Agency.
The American Legion announces Carbon County
Beauty Queens at festivities at Graver's Pool in the Summer of 1936.

After Lehighton's Sesquicentennial festivities had ended in July 2016, members of the committee sought to find the time-capsule apparently left behind by the Centennial Committee in 1966.

As a result of searching for it, Sesquicentennial Committee member Autumn Abelovsky and others accidentally discovered damage was occurring to the contents of the time-capsule in the Borough Hall cornerstone of 1936.  

(State Police from Hazleton were called in to use an ultra-sound and fiber-optic camera to determine if there indeed was a time-capsule in 1936 cornerstone.  Click here for times news story).  (Click here for a video of Lehighton Borough Manager Nicole Beckett removing the wet materials on YouTube.)

Due to the porous nature of the Foxchase marble and stone used to build the Borough Hall, the lead sealed tin box had corroded causing the contents to become saturated in water.

Preservation experts were consulted.  It was determined that the best course of action was to freeze the paper materials for eight months, thereby “freeze drying” the sopping wet documents and pictures.

On June 16, 2017 the contents were removed by Ron Rabenold and Autumn Abelovsky from the freezer and though substantially less saturated, were still dripping wet.  Paper items were placed on drying lines over the weekend and carefully inventoried and digitally scanned and photographed.

Among the treasures found: 1936 coins donated by various council members, a copy of the Lehighton Evening Leader and Lehighton Press, a Leni Lenapian from 1934, list of Lehighton’s Board of Health, a hand card of Lehighton Borough Council members, archives clarifying the spelling of Mahoning Valley famer Philip Ginder’s name.

There was also a nine-page document chronicling the efforts to construct the new building and a list of the Lehighton School faculty and staff.  There was an eight-page, hand-written list of all the members of the Lehigh Fire Co #1 and a synopsis of Lehighton’s post office by Postmaster Wilbur Warner which included a list of all Lehighton’s postmasters.

There was also a King James Bible and a 1936 State of Pennsylvania Borough Code book.  Neither of these books had any inscriptions or notes indicating any special significance.  

As a result, all the historical information was preserved.  The pictures were still intact while frozen.  But immediately deteriorated at room temperature.  Effort was given to scan them, but the damage was too quick and severe. 

But as luck would have it, an exact copy of the picture of the former hall was available through the Barry and Brad Haupt photo collection.  As for a photograph of the 1936 Councilman Edward Teets’ children, a digital copy was secured by a family member, although it is not the exact same photo, it shows the Teets children at roughly the same age.

The sheet of 1936 stamps are in perfect shape.  Water soaked the contents from the bottom up.  Luckily these were placed on the top.
Picture taken at the Lehighton Fair Grounds of the Lehigh Fire Co #1's Annual August Clambake with 221 firemen in
attendance.  Men in the center with aprons looked like they had a long day.  Ticket prices for the all you can eat and drink event were $3.00 in those days.  This annual event continues today at the Orioles Club and is still Lehigh Fire Co members only.  Though there is plenty of a variety of other foods and is still all you can eat, you are guaranteed only two dozen clams.
Today's ticket will cost you $30.

This picture from the Brad and Barry Haupt Photo Collection is near identical to the one placed in the cornerstone time-capsule of 1936.  See further below for the original.  Originally built in 1893 for Borough Chambers on the 2nd floor (and Knights of Malta on the 3rd floor) it had to be demolished in 1935.   

These are the temporary quarters of the Lehigh Fire Co #1's social quarters around 1936 while they awaited their new (and current) building.  The first building at this location was built in 1893.  By 1910 the walls were bulging and support beams deteriorated.  It is believed this location was in a garage to the rear of the current Fire House.
 23August 1938 Morning Call


(THIS POST IS A WORK IN PROGRESS - Please check back later in August for complete time-capsule contents and updated story content.  Thank you for your patience.)


Listed below are the scans and pictures of the 
rest of the 1936 time capsule:

Water-damaged photo of the 1893-1935 Lehighton Borough Hall and Lehigh Fire Co #1
on Third St, Lehighton.

Edward Teet's children sitting outside on a lawn - MaryAnn and William appear as ghosts.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

We Are Fortunate, We Are Blessed - Memorial Day 2017

We are fortunate.
We are blessed.

But still, we lose our finest to war.
A soldier's work is never done.

SPC Michael Wargo, right, with some of his buddies in Afghanistan.
(With a name like "War Go," it seems like it was Michael's destiny
to go and serve his country.)

There will always be evil in the world.
War will always be necessary.

But we are not gathered here because of war.
We have come here, instead, to honor and remember those who served, who sacrificed their freedom for ours.

(The following is a transcript of my speech delivered at the Lehighton Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday May 29th, 10:30 Lehighton Amphitheater, concluding at the Lehighton Cemetery.)

Robert Frost's poem, "November," sums up the waste of war:
"We saw leaves go to glory,
Then, almost migratory,
Go part way down the lane,
And then to end the story,
Get beaten down and pasted
In one wild day of rain.

We heard "Tis over" roaring.
A year of leaves was wasted.
Oh, we make a boast of storing,
Of saving and of keeping.
But only by ignoring
The waste of moments sleeping,
The waste of pleasure weeping,
By denying and ignoring
The waste of nations warring."

Since 9/11, America has been in a constant state of war, our longest in our history.

It has been a necessary, but constant state of waste.
Many green leaves have been wasted.

From the Revolution through today, war has scarred millions of Americans.
Moses Rehrig's family plot in the Lehighton
Cemetery.  There is no visible marker for
Moses other than his GAR placard and flag.
Moses served nearly for the entire war,
including the last two months as a POW
at Andersonville, Georgia.  He served from
June 1861 to February 1863 with the 28th
PA Volunteers.  And then from March 1864
to June 1865 with the 116th.

Lehighton once had a fine gentleman named Moses Rehrig. 

He was a school teacher.  He served nearly the entire Civil War.

Before the war, he was a strapping 200-pounds on a 6' 4" frame.  

He returned home as a walking skeleton, enduring two months in the God-forsaken Andersonville POW Camp in Georgia where thousands of Union troops died.

He was one of Lehighton's favorite sons.  He served on town council, he marched in parades, he went to Sunday School.

But beneath his calm veneer, roiled the horrors that haunted his memory.

At the age of 71, Moses took his own life, hung himself from the rafters of his barn.  (He is buried at his family plot, but there is no marker there.  Either his family didn't provide a lasting marker or perhaps they were embarrassed by the stigma of his suicide.)

Another man, Marcus Maier, served in the 4th PA Cavalry.
This is Marcus Maier's grave at the Ss Peter and Paul Cemetery in Lehighton.
The fact that he "run off" twenty years after the war, spending his time
wandering from one old soldier's home to another, mostly in the South, is
most likely a testament to his struggles with PTSD.  What could he have been
looking for?  Was there some resolution he was seeking?  Was there someone
he was trying to find?  Or was he simply finding solace with the only people
who could understand what he was going through.

One day, twenty-years past his service, he up and wandered off.

Though he left a wife and son in Weissport, he wandered from old soldier home to soldier home, mostly in the South.  Most times registering as a "widower."

What ever could he have been looking for?  What was going on in his mind?  What resolution did he seek among his former enemy?  Was he looking for absolution?  Or perhaps he was looking for solace among the only people who could understand the war.  

We will never know.

After hearing nothing for fifteen years, his wife and son received a wire from a Dayton Ohio soldier's home, informing them Marcus had died.  
(His body was shipped home by rail.  He is buried in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Lehighton.)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is nothing new.
Even today, it is little understood or appreciated.

Our reasons for war have not changed.  But warfare has.
It is leaving indelible marks on our soldiers heretofore unseen.

Lehighton new "Veteran's Park" along the Sgt. Stanley Hoffman Blvd will have a new soldier's monument dedicated to Specialist Michael Wargo, a 1994 graduate of Lehighton High.
Michael Wargo - 1976~2013
He was a 1994 graduate of Lehighton Area High School.

Like Moses Rehrig, Michael was a teacher.  The horror of 9/11 prompted Michael to answer his nation's call.   

He went off to the rugged and unforgiving mountains of the Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Like Moses and Marcus, Michael suffered from PTSD and didn't tell anyone.  

They survived the war with the guilt only a survivor could know.

Michael saw ten of his war buddies killed.

Like so many other survivors, Michael lost his battle here at home.

Like Moses Rehrig, Michael came home and took his own life.  He died four years ago.

Thankfully the Pentagon acknowledges this increasing dilemma and recognizes Michael's  death as "service related."

The monument, depicting Michael's silhouette, is a "War at Home" memorial.  It will be dedicated at a ceremony on Saturday June 17th at 1:00 pm, just days before he would have turned 41.
This larger than life, "War At Home," memorial of
Michael Wargo will soon be installed along the
Lehighton by-pass.  On May 23, 2017 it was on display
at the capitol in Harrisburg to highlight the struggles of
our veterans returning from modern warfare.  It will be
dedicated at a ceremony in Lehihgton on Saturday
June 17th at 1:00 pm.

Michael's parents, Michael and Sally, are here with us today.

These are tough months for them.
Sally last hugged her son on Mother's Day 2013.  He died near Memorial Day.  They buried him on his birthday in June.

Men like Moses, Marcus, and Michael, and countless more, once walked here like you and me. 

Here is the photo chosen of Michael Wargo
that was cut into the steel for his "War at Home"
memorial, to be dedicated June 17th at 1:00.

They felt the dew on their feet and the sunshine on their faces.

They once loved and were loved.

Michael Wargo with his daughter Brianna
from 2010.

They once laughed and hugged...they once cried, they once caused tears.

They once told us "I love you."

War is hell.

We owe an immeasurable debt to each man and woman who ever wore our nation's uniform.

Thank you for coming here today to honor them.

We should all know this freedom is not free...

We have seen these leaves go to glory.  It is our freedom but it is their story.

We cannot live by ignoring, rather we must remember this waste of warring.

We lose our finest to war.
A soldier's work is never done.
We are fortunate.
We are blessed.
May God continue to bless us all.

Other Veteran's stories on this blog:
~Lehighton's Walter Haydt killed over Hinchinbrook, Australia during WWII 
~Ezra Kreiss, married to Lehighton's Madeline Haas, dies in the English Channel 1944
~Part 1: Randy Rabenold - And the Bulldogs Who Went to War/Korean Conflict
~2011 Memorial Day Address at Dinkey Memorial Church "Their Hearts Can Sense Our Presence"
~2013 Memorial Day Tribute to my Dad 
~2014 Memorial Day Ceremony at St. John's Church Mahoning Valley - "Think, Love, Remember"
~2015 Operation Never Forget successfully launched
~Ira Smith - Farmboy from Kistler Valley to Battle of the Bulge to Stalag XIIA POW

A once happy family - Michael married his college sweet-
heart Julie.  They had one daughter Brianna.

Christmas in Afghanistan: With a care-package from home.