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Small Towns Across America Honor Big Time Heroes

by on May 28, 2019 4:30 AM

As Angela Warriner led the crowd of several hundred in a stirring rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” I got goosebumps and tears formed in my eyes. Tim Egan, a U.S. Air Force veteran from the Vietnam War, gave an inspired keynote address, and the Danville High School Marching Band played rousing patriotic songs. This was the scene at the Danville, Pa., Memorial Day program that followed the annual parade down Main Street — a scene that was no doubt repeated across small towns throughout the United States

Memorial Day weekend means different things to different people in this country. For many, it is simply, and sadly, the unofficial start of summer vacation. For others it is a time to catch up on yard work, while others use the long weekend to visit family and friends. There were ballgames, family reunions, pools opening and carnivals. Freedoms that we too often take for granted.

Lest we forget, the true meaning of this most solemn of holidays is to remember those who served this country, and most importantly, those who gave their lives so that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms that come with being an American. Many Americans, especially older citizens, observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials and participating in special ceremonies and town parades.

While Memorial Day has a special meaning of its own in Central Pennsylvania, with Boalsburg being one of several towns to claim being the birthplace of Memorial Day, there are ceremonies and celebrations all around small towns in the U.S. It is these small communities that make up the heart of America.

Like many others, our weekend was a mix of yard work, relaxation, visiting relatives, and a more formal recognition of the true meaning of the holiday by attending the Danville parade and ceremony. We did take care of some needed mulching, pruning, grass cutting, and window cleaning on Saturday before watching and listening to the Penn State men’s lacrosse team in the NCAA semifinals. While disappointed with the outcome, a 21-17 loss to Yale, our congratulations go out to Coach Jeff Tambroni and the team on a great season. We departed for Danville, which is best known as the home of Geisinger Medical Center and its ancillary businesses, to spend the rest of the weekend with family. 

Sunday was strictly about family and doing a lot of “nothing too important.” We did start the day by hiking the Hess Trail along the Mahoning Creek with Mike and Karen Tinstman, our niece Dr. Michaelyn Notz and her daughters, Savannah and Maggie. It was peaceful and picturesque. Then we all participated in a series of family games played both indoors and outdoors. Kan Jam, ping-pong and Spike Ball followed by Boggle, Rummikub and card games. In between we were entertained by our dog, Barkley, and his cousin Abby playing tug of war with a few of their dog toys. It was relaxing and just good old-fashioned fun. Oh, there was plenty of great food as well.

My sister-in-law Karen Tinstman, a former teacher, shared a book she is reading titled “Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse” by Timothy P. Carney.  In the book, Carney discusses some of the social challenges that exist in our country because of the breakdown of Main Street U.S.A. and the resulting decline in marriage, voting, church attendance and volunteerism. Carney cites the fact that many Americans are facing their problems alone instead of having the support systems of the past available to them. His research shows this to be especially true in small towns across the country.

As Monday morning rolled around, we headed to Main Street for the annual Memorial Day Parade. I am here to tell you that Danville’s main street is still alive and well and the various small-town clubs and organizations like the American Legion, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts were out in full force at the parade and the ceremony that followed at Memorial Park.

As the parade was forming, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” was blasting from loud speakers and families lined both sides of the street in anticipation. The parade itself was short but sweet and enjoyed by all who attended.

Memorial Day parade in Danville, Pa. Photo by Joe Battista

Now it was time for the Memorial Day ceremony. It started with the raising of the colors, the invocation and a welcome from U.S. Marine weteran Robert Barnhart, the commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Commander Barnhart said, “It is good and right to take the time to remember those who made the supreme sacrifice so that we can live as a free nation.”

 The ceremony continued with the singing of the national anthem, a reading of “In Flanders Field” by eighth-grader Sarah Sharp, and a placing of the wreaths at the Memorial Park monument. My favorite phrase from Flanders Fields is, “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.”

Next was a time to honor the Prisoners of War and Missing in Action. It was followed by a stirring reading of the Gettysburg Address by eighth-grader Shane Holcombe and an armed forces salute by the Danville Marching Band. As they played the U.S. Marine Corp Hymn, I thought of my best friend, Lt. Col. Dick Bartolomea who passed away two years ago.

Tim Egan then delivered the Memorial Day Keynote address saying, “I am not here to glorify war, because war is a horrible thing. But we do this to remember and respect those who served.”  He also pointed out that in a recent survey of adults only 55% knew why we even celebrate Memorial Day. He said, “It is sad that more people watch ‘American Idol’ than celebrate real American idols.” 

Following the reading of the roll call of the honored dead the ceremony concluded with a rifle salute, “Taps,” and closing remarks, during which Commander Barnhart reminded everyone that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles, formally ending World War I.

Though the sun was hot, the members of the band and the scouts stayed throughout the ceremony. It was a fitting show of respect.

While checking my Facebook page on Monday afternoon, I saw a post from long-time friend and veteran Steve Manuel. He was just in Normandy, France touring the great battlefields of “Operation Overload” better known as the great D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944 by Allied forces in World War II. It was the turning point in the war and many allied troops sacrificed their lives battling Nazi Germany. Steve reminded us that June 6 will be the 75th anniversary of D-Day and that with so many WWII veterans passing away, many memories are at risk of fading away if we are not intentional about ensuring that our younger generations never forget the sacrifices made on our behalf.

Because evil exists in the world, we must always be prepared to defend our great nation as these veterans did before us. As a sign at Memorial Park boldly stated, “Lest we forget.”

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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