Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Lessons in Remembering - Memorial Day 2021


The grave of Peter Nothstein at Normal Square.  The UVO has a long tradition of saluting his grave each year.  He was part of Sullivan's 200 at the Battle of Long Island who were trapped by the Hessians who were under order not to take prisoners.  Nothstein served the entire Revolutionary War.  Click the photo to watch and listen to the 21-gun salute and taps over his grave.




Henry and Kevin Long - What would
our town be like without them?

Thank you for being here today.

Thank you for keeping this tradition of keeping the memory of our Veterans alive.


I’d like to specifically thank all the veterans here among us now, including those in the color guard for their time and efforts in attending to these programs,

and from their countless tasks of serving our community,

from serving at the funerals of our departed,

for bearing the cold of December for Wreaths Across America,

for ensuring every veteran’s grave is decorated with a flag,

and all the countless other tasks you do. 


A cold day in December 2020- Our
UVO taking part in
Wreaths Across America.

You are ever faithful in answering our community’s every need.

 Henry Long - We miss you this year.  Godspeed in your recovery.  We look forward to hearing your trumpet again very soon.


Members of the Lehighton UVO Color Guard at Lehighton Area Middle School - May 2013:
Glenn "Smokey" Troutman, my Dad, the original Double R, Randy Rabenold, forever with a trumpet under his arm, Henry Long, and members of the military storied Semanoff family, Major Pete Semanoff and father Gene. 


Who are you thinking about this Memorial Day Weekend?  

Whose story lives within you?


I have several stories to share with you today. 

I encourage you to do some further reading of these veterans by finding their stories on my blog.


We can all agree, our AMVETS Hometown Hero Banners enhance our town.


Please scroll to the end of this post to find many more examples of Hometown Hero Banners.  If you would like to have one place, please contact the American Legion Home Post #314.  You may also email me and I can assist you in making the application.

Each banner contains its own compelling story.


These stories are filled with conflict and joy,

with sorrow and sacrifice,

with friendship and grief,  

loyalty and survival.


We can learn so much. 



This is a tough year for me. 


It is the first Memorial Day since my father’s passing.

I’m grateful for this opportunity to speak to you about some personal memories that play in a perpetual loop in my memory.




When we were young, my cousins and I grew up in the shadow of our Uncle Ezra Kreiss who was killed in the English Channel in the build up to D-Day

His absence created such a void in everyone’s life. 


Though it was the week of Memorial Day and though all these are Americans who gave their all
in WWII buried here in Cambridge England, only Kreiss's grave was marked by flowers that 
day in 2015.  His decorated grave was easy for his niece Lt. Col Kathy Haas to spot.

The Lehighton Area Middle School
Operation Never Forget Club placed 
these flowers on Ezra Kreiss's 
grave in Cambridge England,
Spring 2015.

Years ago, the Operation Never Forget Club placed flowers on Uncle Ezzie’s grave at Cambridge Cemetery in the U.K.


By chance, my cousin, Kathy Haas, a retired Lt Col in the Air Force, was doing Port Security work in England that same week and had the chance to stop by Uncle Ezzie’s grave. 


She’d never been there before. 

But when she saw that just one grave in the whole cemetery had flowers on it, she knew it was Uncle Ezzie’s grave.

Lt. Col. Kathy Haas's father Robert 
at Ezra Kreiss's grave while with
the Navy in the early 1950s.

My tough Lt Col cousin, Kathy Haas, fell to her knees, and wept.


Veterans understand the sacrifices given by those who came before us.



If you were lucky enough to know Chester Mertz you will understand this.


Chester Mertz - Tending to his parent's grave - St John's,
Mahoning Valley - June 2011.

He was helping me write his story.

Over several weeks of visits and interviews it developed into a most compelling one. 


Upon reading the final draft, he handed it back to me and said:

“Well done.  I’ve enjoyed it. 

But now do one more thing.  Shred it up and share it with no one.”   


A lesson in humility.

Veterans can be the humblest people you will ever meet.



I didn’t know Walter Haydt. 

The Shoemaker-Haydt Post #314 is named in honor of his death in his B-24 Liberator known as the“Texas Terror.”

The picture Walter sent home to his
daughter Janice.
Janice Haydt Gover and her father's hat.

I did know Walter’s brother Ray. 

They said those two brothers had the same laugh. 

I met Walter’s daughter Janice. 

She has her father’s hat to remember him by. 

But when you see Janice, it easy to see how she also carries her father’s exact same smile.   


This I know for certain: Sharing a smile, sharing a kind word, or a laugh, always goes a long way.



Ira Smith lost his family farm after his father died, because his older half-brothers wanted to cash out the farm.

Ira F. Smith grew up on the farm of 
his father Jonathan Smith in the
Kistler Valley.  By the age of 17
he was living in a neighbor's hay loft
working for room and board.

Ira fought at the Battle of the Bulge.  He was shot in the wrist.

He was taken prisoner and bombed by the Allies.

He fell three stories through a warehouse where they were keeping him, and broke his back. 

He suffered through his injuries for a year at the notorious Stalag 12A, and spent an additional year recovering from his injuries at Valley Forge after the war.


Ira F. Smith as pictured in the May 1945 book
"Pictures of the War."

Ira Smith (Dec 1919-May 2011)
& Rabenold at his home in 2010. 

But he did not come home a bitter man. 

When all those older brothers, who sold the family farm, needed help in their old age, it was Ira who went each day to bathe them, to give them a shave. 


Now there’s a lesson in humanity, in forgiveness and compassion.


Yesterday, the UVO saluted the grave of my grandmother’s great-great grandfather PeterNothstein

He served the entire Revolutionary War.

He was among the 200 of Sullivan’s troops who were trapped by the Hessians on Long Island early in the war. 

The Hessians were taking no prisoners alive. 

So, he swam the entire Long Island Sound with his musket strapped to his back.


There are some Veterans who were compelled to do superhuman things to survive.


A few years ago, we honored Clarence Smoyer at the Elem Center. 

The UVO Color Guard surprised him and Vietnam Vet Wayne Wentz announced Smoyer would receive his HS diploma

The long overdue awarding of the Bronze Star with Valor at a special dedication at the WWII Memorial in Washington DC.  Cpl. Smoyer receives the medal from Major Pete Semanoff.  Semanoff as a boy helped ferret out Smoyer's story that led to the book Spearhead.  Semanoff, along with Sgt. Major Dan Dailey of Palmerton, along with aide to Secretary of the Army Kenneth Wong made sure Smoyer finally got this medal, 18 Sept 2019.

(Read how Smoyer received France's highest honor, the Medaille de la Legion d'Honneur in May 2019.)

And this week, Smoyer will once again be going back to the Reading WWII Weekend. 

Once again, he will hear the sounds of that time, when the Andrews Sisters once sang and Tommy Dorsey once played.

Smoyer signing books at Reading WWII
Weekend June 2019, with lipstick marks to
prove he was reliving his days of youth.

At night, in the hanger, the reenactors will come, dressed to the nines, and they will start to swing.

A smile will come to Smoyer’s face, his foot will tap and his knee will bounce.

All of it, like a dream.


The war required that Cpl. Smoyer to do cruel things to our enemy. 

Smoyer watched many young soldiers die.


Before he ever met his wife Melba, as the war wound down, Smoyer fell in love with Ressi Phieffer (A picture of Pheiffer appears on page 64 of book).  He parents used strong persuasion to convince Smoyer to marry their daughter but he was not ready at the time.  While researching for the book, Makos tracked down Pheiffer and as it turned out, she indeed married an American GI and moved to America.  But too late.  They were only able to interview her widowed husband.  Lehighton's Clarence Smoyer's story was told by NYT best-selling author Adam Makos.  The movie is expected to be released by year's end.  AnnMarie Bergoff (pg 175) was a love interest of Buck Marsh during the war.  To read more about how Lehighton's Major Pete Semanoff's efforts in his Eagle Scout Project resulted in this story being published, click here.

He saw the beautiful Katharina Esser die in the crossfire at Cologne.

He bears the grief of burying his Vietnam Veteran son,

of having his beloved wife Melba dying in his arms.

One or the other had to be last.


Lesson: We all must bear our own grief. 

But we can never fully understand the grief our veterans have been called to endure. 

Sometimes in life, we must deal with our past before we can learn to live on.





Oscar Kromer and the entire crew of Destroyer Escort #413 were sunk in the Battle off Samar in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. 


Joyce Kromer Heilman marked this
photo of her father with his mates
on DE413, "The Sammy B" known
at Annapolis as the "destroyer escort 
that fought like a battleship" in
the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

(Read the book “The Spirit of the Sammy B” for a full account.  See footnotes here to read a 10-page excerpt from Kromer's memoir.).

His daughter Joyce remembered her mother’s scream when she read the paper that his ship was lost.

They waited more than four days to know his fate.


Kromer had to climb over dead bodies to climb a ladder out the hatch of his flooded boiler room.  

He floated around on debris for two days, watching friend after friend get pulled under the murky waters by sharks. 

Then in 1983, after learning he had terminal cancer, Oscar began typing his memoir in secret. 

Rehashing the story, 38-years later, still gave Kromer nightmares.

He presented the 105-pages to his family on Christmas Day. 

I have the copy Joyce gave. 


My own father never talked much about his three landings under fire in Korea, at Inchon, Pusan, and Chosin

Dad was on bereavement leave when his buddies, his Cousin Nuny and the entire Marine Brigade were trapped by the Chinese who crossed the Ya-lu River.

Randy Rabenold, my Dad - June 1950 -
Camp Pendleton, California.

That’s where Frank Mertz earned the Silver Star for bravery, his action saved many lives at Chosin.


My Dad was making his way across the Sea of Japan.  They handed his loose company of men two bandoleers of ammo and told them they had to fight their way back in, to help break out the brigade.


Without question my research into my Dad’s story got me closer to my Dad. 


Just like Oscar Kromer’s family and all the rest: 

Many held onto their story until late in life.


Dad was one of six buddies who enlisted together. 

He was the last survivor of them all. 

He too, had to bury the love of his life, my mother Ruthie.


On Monday, June 7th of last year, with his lungs failing him and with just hours to live, Dad wrote this last note.  

“On Monday June 7th, 5 Boys Leave for USMC.  Then, “Korea broke out.” 


Anyone who knew my Dad knew how compulsive he was about making notes.  He never went anywhere without his notebook or stack of index cards.  He noted everything his whole life: how many loads of wash he did, what he watched on TV, a verse from the Bible, and even how many beers he had that day.  Known for his remarkable penmanship and style, these last notes of Dad's from just hours before he passed show both his decline but also his determination to remember.

(June 7th was indeed a Monday in 1948 as was as in 2020.)

 As he held my brother's hand in his left, and mine in his right, Dad died with his last thoughts on his buddies on his 72nd anniversary of his arrival at Parris Island.

Let me leave you with the things I am absolutely certain of:

When my 17-year-old Dad joined the Marine Corps, he did not know who he was going to become.

He had no idea what he wanted.

What I know of loyalty, I'm still learning from my Dad.


In life there are many things we never want to forget.

For those who served, there are many things they cannot forget.


War is a terrible thing. 


The least we can do is remember.

The least we can do is continue to share their stories.


Everyone wants to be remembered for something.


No one wants to be the last. 


Our veterans, though they may not have been born as warriors, always understood their duty.


And that may be the greatest lesson of all:

To know your role in life, 

And to be willing to accept it.



Oscar Kromer served on the DE#413, the "Sammy B."  He floated in shark-infested waters for two days will waiting to be rescued.  He watched one by one as sharks pulled men under, never to be seen again.

A concourse in Alumni Hall at Annapolis is dedicated to the shipments of the Sammy B for having the distinction as the "destroyer escort that fought like a battleship."

Pgs 52-61: Excerpts from the Memoir of Oscar Kromer of Lehighton, finalized January 1983:
(The entire memoir runs to 105 pages.)


Dad was always very musical.  We are lucky to have preserved so many memories of him, from his story, to his cartoons and paintings and to the hours of recordings he made while sitting with his mother.  He attended the Lehighton Boys Band as a child and the Navy School of Music while in the Marines.  He played baritone horn, piano, trumpet, and harmonica.  He kept his trumpet mouthpiece next to his bed at the Mahoning Valley Convalescent Home to keep his pucker strength up.  And here is his last recorded performance while a resident there.

Frank Mertz was a good friend of my Dad's and fellow UVO Member.  I know how humble Frank was about his service.  He'd be mad at me for posting his notes here, that I found among my Dad's things.  Dad used to speak on behalf of the UVO and wanted to showcase the service of his fellow servicemen of the UVO.  I'm certain that Frank wrote these notes only at the persistent proddings by my Dad.

Hometown Heroes: 

(Sorry but this is just a smattering of all the people who have meant something to me in my life...I know of several I am missing.)

Great People I've known or heard about my whole life:

Anyone who grew up in Lehighton prior to the 2000s has a story about Mr. Koons.  He was the subject of my college entry essay as the person outside my family whom I most admired.

Friends and Family:

Former Students (Just a few, I know I'm missing many here):