The turnout for Tamaqua's annual Memorial Day parade and service was the highest that it has been in recent memory. At one point, the parade itself stretched the entire length of Broad Street.
"I think the streets were the most crowded that I have ever seen them," remarked Tamaqua's Mayor Christian Morrison. Led by the C.H. Berry Post 173 of the American Legion, the parade consisted of several marching units from local veterans' organizations, the Tamaqua Fire Department, several rescue units, the Tamaqua and Marian High School marching bands, as well as other civic organizations.
Following the parade, several hundred people attended the memorial service at the Soldiers' Circle Monument in Odd Fellows Cemetery. Master of ceremonies Jon Zizelmann welcomed attendees, along with the special speaker, the Rev. Neal E. Smith, a native of Tamaqua who retired as commander from the United States Navy; Lawrence J. Kabana, the grand marshal of the parade; and McKayla McLaughlin, the 2011 Poppy Queen.
Major Sharon Whispell of the Tamaqua Salvation Army delivered the invocation, followed by the reading of "In Flanders Fields" by Samantha Guth, the Tamaqua Business and Professional Women's Club Young Woman of the Year.
Rev. Smith recalled attending Tamaqua's ceremonies as a child.
"We'd watch the soldiers marching by. As a boy, we would wait on the hillside for the salute, to gather up the spent casing," he recalled.
Smith spoke of the importance of memory.
"It helps us to appreciate the things we have and the things we do not have. It helps us to appreciate those who love us. It helps us to appreciate those who lie beneath the sod, who gave all they had to keep America free."
While serving in the Navy, Smith was stationed in Hawaii. He recalled spending time at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, also referred to as the Punchbowl Cemetery. Smith described the cemetery's memorial for the thousands of soldiers and sailors who were lost at sea and missing in action. He related how soldiers would visit the cemetery with their families and show them the world map and say "I was there. That's where my buddies fell."
Smith also recalled a visit to Gettysburg, where he was struck by the sheer number of monuments scattered all over the battle site.
"The government didn't put those monuments up," he said. "The war ended, time was passing, and the aging warriors worried that people would forget that war. They didn't want anyone to forget. They knew they needed to do more, so they set to work to raise money for the monuments.
"It is a sin of the greatest magnitude to forget those who gave their lives," Smith said. "It's not very much to ask, to remember to say 'thanks buddy, I owe you a lot.'"
Smith cautioned those in attendance that "war is no game. It comes at an unspeakable price."
"Freedom is not free. Liberty is not cheap. Americans have something special, something worth sacrificing for," said Smith.
"Warriors are just like you and me, ordinary people called upon to do courageous things. As you pass by the grave of a veteran, pause and in a whisper, say 'thanks friend, for my life,'" he added.
"Memorial Day is not only a day to be somber, but a day to celebrate and appreciate," Smith said in conclusion.
The ceremony continued with a reading of the roll call of deceased veterans from the Tamaqua area and the placing of a memorial wreath by Kabana and Morrison at the monument.
The Tamaqua High School marching band played several patriotic selections. Finally, Taps was played and balloons were released in memory of the deceased veterans.
Later in the day, the C.H. Berry Post 173 held its own service at the AMVETS and American Legion memorials. Several dozen people attended the ceremony. Commander Joel Perry commented on the importance of turning out for the parade and supporting the veterans.
Roy Hable was presented with a commendation for being a member of the American Legion for 50 consecutive years. Russell Kellner was also recognized for 50 years of service, but unable to attend the ceremony. The Legion also presented Tamaqua's Citizen of the Year, Andrew Leibenguth, with a plaque denoting his accomplishments and praised him for this tireless work as a volunteer.