Their numbers are dwindling; Coaldale lost 39 of its veterans in this year alone. But although some leaned heavily on canes, and their hands shook as they saluted the American flag, those remaining old soldiers stood tall and strong as they honored the fallen the borough's traditional two Memorial Day services.
Common themes stitched together both services, one at the Seek memorial and the other at the Veteran's Memorial Garden, next to borough hall on Third Street. Speakers urged those attending to weave the threads of love of country, gratitude for the sacrifices made by those in the military and their families, and the need to keep alive the memory of their valor, into a legacy to be handed down, like a well-loved quilt, to future generations.
"Our ranks are getting smaller," said U.S. Air Force veteran Nick Paraschak as he prepared to read the names of the fallen.
The ceremonies this year honored Vietnam veteran Leonard Zellner. Zellner, who died in December, served two combat tours in Southeast Asia, was wounded and was awarded the prestigious Combat Infantryman Badge, two Purple Hearts, the Vietnam Service Medal with clasp for Valor, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, among other combat decorations.
The ceremonies brought generations together. Bryce Krapf, 7, and Vaughn Flyzik, 8, did their part by handing out programs. The Panther Valley School District JROTC and high school band lent their presence, as were members of the Coaldale UVO, which organized the services.
Speakers included U.S. Air Force veteran William Gaddes, Mayor Richard Corkery, Cassandra Hoben, Stephany Mills, and PVJROTC cadet Stephanie Stoffa. Cadet Gabrielle Booker sang the national anthem. The Rev. Daniel Matthewson of Saint Mary's Orthodox Church offered prayers.
Keynote speakers, the Rev. William H. Edwards and U.S. Army Major (Ret.) Kenneth Markovich, encouraged the audience to pass down the need to honor veterans to future generations.
Markovich quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s 1884 memorial Day address.
"But even if I am wrong, even if those who come after us are to forget all that we hold dear, and the future is to reach and kindle its children in ways as yet unrevealed, it is enough for us that this day is dear and sacred."
His words reflected the sentiments of the lyrics of a song sung by Brittany Erbe of Coaldale, "Make Them Hear You."
"Go out and tell our story, to your daughters and your sons. Make them hear you. Make them hear you. Proclaim it from your pulpit. In your classroom with your pen," she sang.
Markovich, who also leads the Panther Valley School District's JROTC program, is aware of the need to drive home the message.
He recalled asking his freshman class what Memorial Day meant to them. "I was shocked to see some write that it meant a day off from school, or it meant nothing at all," he said. "They had no idea. I asked myself, how does a freshman not know what Memorial Day is about. That's when I knew we were failing to follow the simple instructions left for us."
But Markovich was heartened when, as his cadets placed flags on veterans' graves in Summit Hill last week, "Cadet Lazur Zenon, without instruction, after placing a flag would stand at attention and render a sharp hand salute before moving to the next. That's respect and honor," he said.
Markovich asked veterans to "hand down your stories, get the shoebox of pictures from the attic to give to your children and grandchildren. Let them gather them, copy them, record them and post them in our digital world ... Take up this quest so that we may learn and never forget."
For many, including the speakers, the sacrifices hit close to home.
Edwards, a Vietnam veteran, recited a song "The Wall" about the 58,000 names inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.
"On panel 18, line 29, is the name of my classmate, teammate and friend, Norman Nesterak," Edwards said. "On panel 24 are three members of my platoon."
Edwards also spoke of the sacrifices made, and the legacy left, by the women who volunteered to enlist as nurses. Their names, too, are on The Wall.
He recited a poem he wrote in their honor, "Why Is Grandma Crying?" The poem inspired a song, "She Still Cries," about a Vietnam nurse grieving for the soldiers she couldn't save.
The poem tells of the nurse's first visit with her family to the Vietnam Women's Memorial. Her grandchild asks, "Why is Grandma crying?" and is told of her service.
"Now she holds the memories, of all the pain and death. Frightened boys whose hands she held, as they took their final breath. And, of course, there are the times, when grandma cannot sleep. Visions of some hopeless sight, aren't buried very deep. But most of all, Grandma grieves, for the boys she couldn't save. And a mother on Veteran's day, as she weeps at her son's grave," the lyrics say.
Edwards also sang "She Still Cries," bringing tears to the eyes of many in the audience.
The services marked the 65th anniversaries of the end of World War II and of the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.