Monday, May 27, 2019

Take Action - Lehighton Memorial Day 2019

I would like to thank the UVO, both current and former, who continue to serve their country and their community (men like Charlie Uhler and Carlos Teets who are no longer with us)…to my Dad who survived Korea, now in the home, who used to help out…
USAF Major General Jay Barry (retired) holds the Navy service flag.  He accepted the Navy flag to have his fellow "flyboy" UVO member have the honors of the Air Force flag, though he would have been right to pull rank had he wanted to, at least, that's how I see it.

Though I never served, I grew up with a deep respect for men like these.  

I’d also like to thank the UVO’s generosity with donating funds to pay for the flowers the children will strew on the graves later.  They continued the work of the Operation Never Forget Club.  With any luck, I hope to get that club up and running once again.

Lehighton UVO salautes at Weissport Park
Services at Union Hill Cemetery - Steve Ebbert speaker
Honoring the Lost at Sea - Wreath into Lehigh River
Wreath Floats Away
"Faith of Our Fathers" - Lehighton Band + Lehighton Boys & Girls Band

~ Photo courtesy of Laura Foeller ~
Today is a glorious day.

We have the sun on our face, clouds to keep us cool, the wind at our backs, dew on our feet, and joy in our hearts.

We are here to remember those who paid for our freedom.
Your presence today is an action that shows your devotion.

They took action to secure our freedom. 
This is a day to refresh and renew. 
Let us take a fresh look upon a grave with renewed interest.

Let us take action to remember those who showed their love by giving their time and devotion.

Let’s make a mental picture of what devotion looks like:
Use your mind’s eye right now, remember what you see…
Mayor Ritter and the Poppy Queen enjoy the shade before the program began.

When you look at the Tomb of the Unknown,
When you look out at the rolling Hills of Arlington,
When you see the low country of Luxemburg, the sandy bluffs of Cambridge, and the beach front cemetery of Normandy,
When you cast your eye across the sea of white crosses, each one, representing its own story of devotion to our country. 

That is love.
Carol Kimmel Ritter shows me the aluminum
bracelet her father Bob made for members of
his family.  This one he made for his wife.  He
made a matching one for himself that he and
his wife wore.  The metal came from a
Japanese zero that crashed into Bob's destroyer
escort ship he served on during WWII.
Bob Kimmel and my Uncle Robert
Haas were the best of friends, having
coffee with each other everyday, several
times a day, like clockwork.  Carol
recently shared this story with me when I
visited with her and Mayor Ritter this week.
I was so glad she flagged me down to show
me such an important family memento.
I’d like to share a few stories about love and devotion.
I’d like to start with a few living and a few who have died securing the freedoms we love.

Let’s start with Major Pete Semanoff who is stationed in Texas.  He’s earned two bronze stars for tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But he took action as a young boy too.  He devoted himself to get to know Clarence Smoyer. 

And because of this, a book was written about Smoyer that is a national best-seller. 
Mayor Clark Ritter greets Clarence Smoyer, Lehighton native and subject
of Adam Makos book entitled Spearhead.

And now Smoyer’s story of love and devotion to country is known.

Pete’s Dad is Gene Willard Semanoff.

Gene is named after two uncles, both of them KIA during WWII.

Gene’s mother’s brother, Willard Reabold, of Hacklebernie, died in the Battle of the Bulge.

Gene’s father’s brother, George “Gene,” was killed at Saipan while honoring his commitment to bring someone home.

That someone was Samuel Kutalek of Nesquehoning. 

Samuel Kutalek enlisted the very day Hitler invaded Poland, September 1st, 1939.  He was sent to the Philippines. 

He was captured. 
Sam Kutalek took action as soon
as he heard of Hitler's invasion of Poland.

And there he was marched at the point of a Japanese bayonet, during the infamous Bataan Death March.  And unknown to his parents, he had survived.

But they did not know this. 

He was reported missing for over a year. 

When they learned he was alive, Sam’s brother Paul and his best friend, Gene Semanoff, vowed to join the Marines, find Kutalek, and bring him home.

Both men, Paul and Gene, died honoring their vow, while Sam Kutalek was released and lived a long and happy life.
18 September 1945 - The announcement of
Sam Kutalek's release and the deaths of his brother
and George "Gene" Semanoff.

Clarence Smoyer and Joseph “Yzush” Sitarchyk were friends as young boys. 

These children of the Depression had it rough. 

Sitarchyk’s father died when Joseph was just 11. 

Joe’s father died while trying to keep his family warm.  

He had a wooden cart he’d push through the scrap woods along the river and the RR tracks near North First St.  The news accounts of that week described the early November cold snap we were having.  Wood he’d gather to keep his family warm. 

And one day he was hit by a car and killed.

Joseph grew up in want. 

He’d sometimes steal a can of soup from the store just to have something to eat.  (And according to Clarence, Joseph was well acquainted with more trouble as he got older…)
18 November 1935 - The Great Depression
made many of our "Greatest Generation" tougher,
but Joe Sitarchyk had a rough start, his family losing
their father so many in the family.  The Sitrachyk name
had the family name Harvilla attached to the end of it.
Joe and his brother John Sitarchyk dropped that
part of their name, however the paper only printed

Smoyer added meat to his diet by shooting bullfrogs with his BB gun and roasting their legs over a fire along the Mahoning Creek.  These tough times made tough men.

Joseph joined the Army Rangers and was dropped in at Anzio. 
In the ensuing battle at Cisterna, of the 1,200 men, only 9 escaped unwounded and uncaptured. 

Sitarchyk and five other men found refuge under a bridge and vowed to survive. 

They swore allegiance and famously signed a dollar bill together.

Many who survive such terrible ordeals live with memories that cannot be shaken.

Some take these memories into further actions to help others. 

By sharing his story, Smoyer has given us a look into the heart of a humble and devoted warrior. 
This is a picture of Joe Sitarchyk taken by Pete
Semanoff in his 30 interviews of area veterans
for his 1994 Eagle Scout Project.  We are lucky
Pete took the time to document their stories, otherwise
many of them would have been lost to time.  Joe
passed away in 2002.

Not one who wanted to kill for malice. 

But someone who killed to protect and defend his family he loved so dearly, the family who drove inside his sardine can on tracks. 

Smoyer was driven to perfection out of loyalty to them.

When Michael Wargo survived Afghanistan, he came home with many terrible memories he couldn’t shake. 

We are lucky to have men and women like these. 

They took action, they served, they fought, and too many died, securing our freedoms.

As a youth, Smoyer and his friends
had a hut near Heilman's Dam on
the Mahoning.  They'd shoot bullfrogs
with their BB guns and eat the frogs
legs over a campfire.

Nothing is free.
You have nothing that wasn’t first given to you.

We get, we give.
They gave all. 

What do you have to give?

Take action.  All of you.  You must.
Visit the Michael Wargo Memorial today and renew your sense of devotion to country and to those who are gone.

Renew your love and devotion for family, for country, for those brave men and women.

America must always have a giving heart filled with love and devotion.

Today is a Glorious Day.

We have the sun on our face, we have clouds to keep us cool, the wind at our backs, dew on our feet, and joy in our hearts.

We are here to remember those who paid for our freedom.
After the ceremonies, the UVO and the Lehighton Legion Post #314 host a free community lunch.  This is a vital
part of the day, where veterans can assemble and relate stories and friendship with each other.  Here WWII tank gunner Clarence Smoyer meets Larry Ahner of Lehighton who served in an Abrams tank and later, with the Guard, was assigned to high-valued prisoners in Iraq, including the supervision of our #1 prisoner there: Saddam Hussein.  Ahner had command and control of Hussein for many months in Iraq, holding him inside a prison cell we constructed in one of his palaces.  Ahner had daily contact with the despot, the "Butcher of Baghdad."

This I found as a PowerPoint slide from a presentation someone posted on the internet.  I would really hope the person
who knows more about this story would contact me at my home email or on Facebook.  Joe Sitarchyk was from Lehighton.
I cannot determine more about this story and hope somehow someone could put us in touch with someone who does because this is an important human story that we in Lehighton would be fortunate to know more about.

Fifth grade students came to the cemetery Thursday night 5/23 to do a Veterans Walk.  Then they assisted the UVO and scout groups in decorating veteran graves with over 1,000 flags in preparation for Memorial Day Services.

Members of the Lehighton UVO escort Clarence to his seat at the Lehighton Meet and Greet held for him on Wednesday 5/22/19.

Peter Sitarchyk Harvilla's death certificate from November 1935 -It was a colder than normal Great Depression November when Pete was killed pushing his firewood wagon on North First St in front of the old Jamestown Hotel that burned downed years ago.  Today it is a vacant lot.

No comments:

Post a Comment