Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Berwick Parishes Salute Those Who Have Served during Veterans Day Tradition

Harry Hunsinger’s eyes welled with tears at a Veterans Day ceremony in Berwick, just as they do every November 11; his emotions an outpouring of pride, remembrance and grief at the “Bless Our Vets” ceremony at the YMCA.

Seated among fellow veterans and community supporters, Hunsinger and the rest of those attending the ceremony were stirred to countless emotions during the speeches, prayers and music presented on Friday, November 10.

“It’s just an emotional day for me. I’m remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, some of my buddies who never came home, my grandfather who served, and my dad who was a veteran and a great man,” Hunsinger told The Witness. “I’m just overcome with emotion from the tribute, and from the honor given here by the people who turned out to support us today.”

A Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force from 1960-1968, Hunsinger repaired electronics and radio systems, serving four years stateside with the Air Defense Command and four years with the Tactical Air Command repairing systems on the C-130 Hercules with duty in the Philippines and Vietnam.

He’s a third-generation veteran from the Berwick-Nescopeck area. His grandfather served the Pennsylvania 145th Infantry in World War I, dying in battle in the trenches in France in 1918. His father was a Tech Sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1940-1946; the aerial photographer took pictures, developed the film and composed maps of enemy positions in the South Pacific.

“I’m just so proud of grandfather and my dad, and to have followed them in service. I love this country,” Hunsinger said. “I’ve seen some awful things, death, people I know that didn’t make it, and this tribute here today means so much more than I can say.”

The ceremony was hosted in part by St. Joseph and Immaculate Conception BVM Parishes in Berwick, whose pastor, Father William Barbee, served as an Army chaplain from 1987-2015. For the past several years, the parishes have hosted an American flag tribute on their grounds, for which community members sponsor a flag in honor or in memory of a veteran for a $5 donation. The proceeds from this year’s project totaled $4,080, which Immaculate Conception parishioner and Navy veteran David Hough presented to the McBride Memorial Library during the Veterans Day ceremony.

Father Barbee offered opening remarks at the “Bless Our Vets” event, which was highlighted by personal reflections from U.S. Army Specialist Cary Rhodomoyer, who served in the 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam as a crew chief and door gunner. The Purple Heart recipient still has a letter he wrote to his mother during his time of service, it was read aloud during the ceremony, telling of his fear, his longing for home, and his dedication to his brothers in arms. World War II veteran Charles J. Brooking, 96, a Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class who enlisted in the Navy at age 17, also spoke, sharing his experiences of serving on a patrol torpedo boat in several combat missions.

Brooking received a standing ovation from those in the crowd, including retired Navy Seal Kevin Farrell.

“A ceremony like this is good to see, especially with some of the older veterans here. They might not get another chance to do things like this,” said Farrell, a member of St. Joseph Parish. “It’s a great tribute. I entered a few years after Vietnam, and for a lot of those guys, they way they were treated was just wrong. It’s nice for them to get some recognition now.”

Farell enlisted in 1978 at age 17. He served 21 years in active duty and six in civil service.

“It was the best group of people I could have ever known,” he said of his Seal team. “We were a small unit, so you tend to get to know everybody over a period of time.” Farrell served in Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Bosnia.

“I enjoyed every minute of it and still miss it to this day. I had a few injuries, including a broken back and a fractured neck. People ask me if I would have changed things or if it affects my attitude, but I still wouldn’t have done anything differently,” he said of his service.

Julie Manta, a retired Army Colonel who served 32 years in active duty as a human resources officer in Germany, Korea, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo, drove from her civil service position as an administrator at the Army War College in Carlisle to attend the event in Berwick. She came at the invitation of Father Barbee, whom she met during their service in Carlisle.

“One of the blessings we have as part of a serving community like the military is, no matter where you go, you feel like you’re part of a community,” said Manta.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to serve in the Army. I think it’s a great way to support an honorable form of service to our nation and be part of something larger than yourself,” she said. “It’s been a very important part of my life and my husband’s life. As veterans, we support as many activities as we can, such as this ceremony today, when we’re asked to participate. For me, what’s equally important is to recognize the support of our families, our communities and the American people. They make it possible for us to serve.”

(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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