Mark Tramontina, a social studies teacher at Pleasant Valley High School, was named as the Pennsylvania state's American Legion's Educator of the Year for his dedication to honoring American veterans.
Tramontina grew up with a deep sense of patriotism and respect for the veterans of the United States of America.
His father, Albert Tramontina, served in the United States Marine Corps from 1950-1954 and was a Korean War veteran. His son, Brian Tramontina, served 10 years in the Marines from 1994-2004 with the V22 Osprey Program, and now works for Bell Helicopter in Texas.
"Because of veterans, I have a job, and everything I will have in the future is safeguarded by those who serve," are his reasons for supporting the veterans and those who serve in today's armed forces.
One of the ways he does this is by the veterans' program he coordinates for PVHS's annual Veterans Day event, every Nov. 11.
This Nov. 11 will be the program's 14th year.
"The program is a result of the urgings of my classes. I try to stress to my students the importance of what veterans have done for our country. My students in 1996 wanted to do something to honor them. I asked what they wanted to do and they said, 'Let's do a program.'''
That year and the next, his second and fourth period classes invited veterans to come into his classroom on Veterans Day and talk about their experiences. Other classes heard about the program and asked to come in to hear what the veterans had to say. By the third year, the program moved into the small high school gym to accommodate the students.
"It has grown so much that we now have it in the large gym. We have three different programs. One in the morning, one mid-day and the third at the end of the day. Students volunteer to sing and some read poetry with visiting veterans telling a little bit of their experiences," he says.
Monica Tramontina, his wife and a learning support paraprofessional associate at the high school, contacts people from the Monroe County Commissioners to local politicians and veterans to come speak at the programs.
"I'm involved because Mark is. And I've had a number of people in my family who have been in the service. I want the kids to know what people have done for their freedom," says Monica.
In 2000 Tramontina learned that Al Gore would be in the area. He invited him to speak at the program but he was not able to attend. Gore invited Tramontina and his students to a rally held in Wilkes-Barre instead. Tramontina took 75 students and it was an experience none of them will forget.
The Veterans Day program has received letters from Governor Ed Rendell and former Gov. Mark Schweiker. He has received citations from the Pennsylvania Senate and Congress.
Senator Arlen Specter almost made it but because of a delay, just missed the program by a half-hour.
"I did receive a personal note from him," says Tramontina.
But the special guests of honor are the veterans that visit, from World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War to the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're the ones who have the stories and share the memories of the experiences of a soldier, a sailor, an Air Forceman, a nurse, that make the program so successful.
Among some of those speakers have been a Navy Seal, a veteran of Omaha Beach on D-Day and Harvey Possinger, one of the most highly decorated veterans of World War II.
"He was really a great guy. He was wounded five times, had five Purple Hearts and visited us regularly, the last time in 2005. He died in May of 2006."
Possinger was a machine-gunner and litter bearer in the Pacific Theater. He had been promised by General Douglas MacArthur personally that he would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor but because of a series of bureaucratic mix ups, he never did. He did receive the Distinguished Service Cross. Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier in history with 29 medals. Possinger was the second most decorated. He had 28. He was one of PV's most favorite speakers.
Recruiters from the different military branches have tables at the program. Tramontina sets up various displays of the many military artifacts he has collected over the years.
"I have been collecting military stuff since I was a child. I have uniforms that were sent to me from Vietnam by a family friend. I have a WWI helmet given to me by my uncle Linn Cates. Just recently, I was given a box of shrapnel and exploded ammunition from a German Half-track that was burned in North Africa during WWII. This was a gift from William Neville, a retired US Army soldier (Korea).
He has uniforms that he purchased from a local woman, Mrs. Meixell, that were her husband's when he served in the Army in 1956. He was given uniforms worn in Desert Storm by an Army Recruiter and some boots worn by a former student serving in the US Army in Iraqi Freedom. Over the years people drop off stuff to his classroom that they contribute to the Veterans Day program. Other items he has been fortunate to acquire from flea markets and relatives. Some came from his fellow members in the KWVA, of which he is an associate member. He has been given patches by his dad. His son sent a lot of his gear when he left the USMC after 10 years.
The US Marine Corps Public Affairs Division arranged for the delivery of an aircraft side plate from the Osprey program.
"My son's unit was VMMT – 204 at New River Air Station N.C. He brought the plate up for Veterans Day."
It now hangs in his classroom.
One year a student prepared a DVD of photos his grandfather had taken while in the service. Another prepared a history of his family at war. Others bring in mementos of relatives who served and build displays around them.
For students that do not have a family or personal connection with a veteran, Tramontina will guide them to one or to topics that will tie into some to the year's speakers. Class members contribute by emceeing, performing musical numbers, designing the programs or preparing promotional materials.
Teachers bring in their classes and students can come in during their lunch to look at the displays.
Tramontina lauds the support he receives from the administration and staff at PVHS, especially from John Gress, PVHS principal.
"Mr. Tramontina is an outstanding professional and person. He provides his students with a realistic picture of history. Through his use of examples, displays and other resources, students better understand the relationship of historical events to present day society. His continued dedication to the veterans program in November involves his classes and the entire student body," says Gress.
Joe Talocka, former Post Commander of American Legion Post 927, Gilbert, worked tirelessly for Tramontina to receive the award. He wanted it to be a surprise. But unfortunately, Talocka couldn't get all the necessary information without asking him.
"He does an awful lot of work for the veterans. I'm also a member of the Korean War Veterans and have worked closely with Mark over the years. At Christmas time the Korean vets visit the area nursing homes' vets and Mark's students make homemade Christmas cards for them. He is well deserving of the award," says Talocka.
"Just finding out that I was nominated blew me away," says Tramontina.
"A group of us at Post 927 are constantly keeping our eyes open for someone for this award. We wanted Mark nominated because of his extended devotion to the Veterans Day program which went from one-period to an all-day event. It is an outstanding effort," says Gilbert Lawrence, American Legion Post 927 Post Adjunct.
Tramontina was interviewed in the spring. He received a letter on June 18 from the American Legion that he was selected as 2010's Educator of the Year. He and his wife, Monica, Dr. Douglas Arnold, PVSD superintendent, and his wife, Dora, attended the 92nd Annual Department Convention on Saturday, July 17 at the Hilton Hotel in Harrisburg.
Tramontina thanked the American Legion, Gress, "who allows me do the Veterans Day Program," and Dr. Arnold because of the kind of support the PV teachers get from the administration.
"Our school district is very proud of the program that Mr. Tramontina organizes to salute our veterans. It is very important that our students become familiar with the sacrifices that have been made for our country and the importance of earnestly taking pause to remember, respect and learn. Veterans Days throughout our school district are filled with important and inspirational messages," says Dr. Arnold.
Tramontina was born in Chestnuthill. He went to school in Lansdale until 8th grade. He and his family moved to Buck Hill Falls in 1970 and he graduated from Pocono Mountain High School in 1976 and from East Stroudsburg State College in 1980 with a B.S. degree in Secondary Education/Social Studies. He has been teaching social studies classes at PVHS for the last 25 years. He is currently working on his master's degree. He resides with his wife, Monica, in Saylorsburg and they have five sons and nine grandchildren.
Tramontina has been a coach in cross country, track and football. Currently he serves as an official for the high school sports track and field, and cross country teams. He and his wife served as class advisers for the Class of 2009 and are currently class advisers to the class of 2011.
Although he has never served in the armed forces, he has a deep abiding respect for those who have and are serving. He is involved in the Marine Corps League and has served as an officer, working with them in the Toys for Tots campaign. He is a volunteer of the local organization, Operation: Touch of Home.
He and his first wife, Dee, who passed away in 2004, were members of a Troop Support group during the Gulf Wars. They helped raise money for Mary Ann Page, whose husband was killed during the Gulf War when his helicopter went down. She somehow received double benefits and the government later took them back. She owed $15,000 and had no way to repay it. Their group raised money to help her pay back the money.
Tramontina wrote a monthly column for Veterans' Views for the Village Voice for one and a half years.
He worked on a committee to write the by-laws for the Korean War Veterans Association and he has his students make Christmas cards for the local veterans.
"The idea of the Veterans Day Program began as a way to make Veterans Day personal to high school students and to put a spotlight on those who served this nation. Today the idea that began in one classroom for one class period 14 years ago, fills a high school gym for an entire day and has spawned other, similar programs in northeastern Pennsylvania. That idea has influenced thousands of students and honored hundreds of veterans while drawing attention from local veterans groups to the White House," stated the letter Post 927 submitted to the nominating board.
It is that dedication to veterans that earned Mark Tramontina, the Pennsylvania American Legion's 2010 Educator of the Year award.