Coaldale's Veterans Day ceremony at the World War II Memorial Garden Sunday aimed at reminding us to respect, remember and revere those men and women who sacrificed for the freedoms that we all too often take for granted. That message hit home as those attending the service listened to the words of State Sen. David G. Argall, Faye Lewis, William Gaddes, Mrs. Mary Edith Rhoades, whose husband, the late state Sen. James J. Rhoades, was crucial the Garden's creation, and World War II Memorial Committee Chairman Steve Tentylo.
The ceremony, sponsored by the Coaldale Veterans and Women's Memorial Committee and the Coaldale United Veterans Organization, included the dedication of the Women's Memorial Garden Wishing Well and the presentation of a plaque to Rhoades in her late husband's honor. The Rev. Mathewson of St. Mary's Orthodox Church, offered the invocation and Brittany Erbe sang the Star Spangled Banner. The Rev. William Edwards sang "She Still Cries."
Tentylo welcomed the crowd. The Women's Memorial, which, when completed by Memorial Day, 2010, "will be a fitting tribute to all women, not only those served, but those who loved, supported, and prayed for the safe return of their loved ones from harm's way," he said.
Tentylo spoke of Rhoades' contributions.
"Sen. Rhoades was one of our first supporters," he said. "He continued to support our efforts to raise the funds for the beautiful memorial you see here today. We believe we have one of the unique and beautiful memorials to be found in America. When we consider that Coaldale is first in the nation regarding per capita who served in World War II, the memorial is well-deserved."
Before the ceremony, Gaddes said the committee has raised $152,000 for the Memorial Garden so far, and needs an additional $30,000 to complete the women's memorial and add names to the World War II pillars. The women's memorial, which features a wishing well with a copper roof (installed that morning) and will include a granite statue of a World War II-era mother with her children and granite portraits of local women and their families. The work, with few exceptions, has been done by volunteers.
State Rep. Jerry Knowles recalled the impact of the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001. "There's always something good that comes out of something terrible," he said. the events of that day "raised peoples' awareness of the military and to those who have served. I commend you and thank you for your service."
Lewis spoke of the sacrifices women have made during times of war, and urged parents to teach their children to respect veterans, their flag and their country.
She spoke of the "unsung heroes" who have "served our country during the times of its darkest days." Lewis referenced John Milton's words, "They also serve who only stand and wait," and followed the contributions and sacrifices made by women throughout recent history.
In the 1940s, mothers watched as their sons "answered their country's call to service and went off to war. Perhaps you were a young wife and mother, forced to take on the full responsibility of your home and children. Added to that burden was the need to work outside the home to provide the necessities of life but also to help the war effort." Women's strength and ingenuity allowed them to make good lives for their families in those times of scarce resources and constant fear.
She cited the role of women who served as nurses in time of war and of Gold Star Mothers, and now, of women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lewis urged people to improve the world by "creating loving atmosphere in our own small spheres. like a stone thrown into water, we may expand our influence."
To do that, "each of us must teach our youth" to stand quietly and salute when a flag passes by, to stand as the Star Spangled Banner is played, and to respect, greet and thank service men and women and veterans.
Moreover, we should all "begin each day by thanking the Lord that we have been placed in a country where freedom is not just a word, but a way of life."
Argall, who now holds the state Senate seat left empty by Rhoades' death in 2008, encouraged those attending the ceremony to look back - and ahead.
"It is up to our society to make sure that the veterans and their families did not make those sacrifices for nothing. Patriotism, love of country, support for democracy - these words may sound foolish or old-fashioned to some people today. But more than a million men and women have died for those ideals," he said.
The Army accepted 170,000 volunteers last year. One in 10 United States soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are women, Argall said. "More women have fought and died in the Iraq war than any since World War II, he said."Men and women, sacrifice and service - these are the hallmarks of military veterans," Argall said.
One of every seven soldiers who fought in World War II was from Pennsylvania. The state is home to 1.1 million veterans, he said.
"Sometimes, unfortunately, we take those sacrifices for granted," Argall said. He recalled a time 22 years ago, when he was in Rieneck, Bavaria as part of a Boy Scout gathering. He saw a monument to those who died in World War I and World War II.
"There, they remembered their veterans from the First World War, their veterans from the Second World War, and the people of Rieneck who had left for the concentration camps and never came home," he said. "That must have been an interesting planning session when they were pulling together that one to honor both sides of that tragic equation."
The experience brought home how fortunate he is to have been born in America.
"Every day I should get down on my knees and thank God that I was born here in 1958, and not in Salesia, on the German-Polish border, where my mother's family came from," he said. "Had I been born there in 1928 or 1938, how different my life would have been."
Argall spoke of the pain of those whose loved ones died in wars.
"It's only natural on days like this that we speak of war. But we must also speak of peace," he said. Argall recalled Gen. Douglas MacArthur's words - "The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war."
But another group "prayed just as hard and suffered just as much. I think of the Gold Star Mothers who are honored at this memorial," he said of the Women's Memorial Garden, within the Veteran's Memorial Garden next to Coaldale's borough hall on Phillips Street.
Later, Memorial Committee member and garden designer William Gaddes presented a plaque to Mary Edith Rhoades in honor of her late husband.