On this recently celebrated Veterans' Day, I can't help but reflect on two Lehighton veterans who recently passed from this world to the next – but whose influences will live on for generations to come.
Personally, I believe that we are all born with a God-given destiny – a "dharma." It's our personal obligation, a calling, a duty. We are all expected to use our unique gifts to make this world a better place than when we found it. These two veterans did just that.
A life-long resident of Lehighton, Ray Koons joined the United States Marine Corps after graduating from high school. Returning home from the Korean War – no longer a boy from Lehighton, but a man who had seen the world – Ray decided to bloom where he was planted.
Earning his Bachelor of Science degree from Kutztown State College – and eventually his Master of Science degree from Lehigh University – Ray went on to serve Lehighton Area School District for 30 years as a dedicated and respected teacher, administrator, and coach.
I was fortunate to be a student in Ray's 11th grade Federal Government class. In addition to Social Studies, we learned lessons that – perhaps – were even more important.
Long before it was fashionable, I vividly recall him encouraging his students, "Kids, you've got to read" and "Kids, you've got to be proud" – proud of your hometown, your school, your country, … and especially proud of yourself. Realize your self-worth and appreciate the reason that you are here.
As a volunteer, Ray was very active throughout the Lehighton community – including as "the voice of the annual Lehighton Halloween Parade."
Born in Ithaca, NY, Bob McCombs enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II. Following the war, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University and later moved his family to Lehighton. Bob was as a soil conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for over 15 years
Despite battling Multiple Sclerosis since 1966, Bob continued his involvement in the field of conservation by serving for over 30 years as a director of the Carbon County Soil Conservation District. He was also a special education teacher in Weissport.
Bob, too, was a very active volunteer in the Lehighton community. A life member of the Paralyzed Disabled Veterans, he started the MS Support Group of Carbon County. In 1982, Bob personally led a group of people in wheelchairs to downtown Lehighton to demonstrate the need for sidewalk ramps.
I was blessed to know Bob through Lehighton Rotary Club. A member since 1973, he was a past president of the club and a prestigious Paul Harris Fellow recipient.
In Rotary, we have what is known as "The Four-Way Test" – guiding principles that we use to treat others and ourselves.
Of the things we think, say, or do:
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Both of these men exemplified the qualities to answer these questions in a positive way.
In addition to being long-time loving husbands, family men, and active in his respective church, Ray and Bob had something else in common. Each in his own way realized his unique dharma – making a positive difference in others' lives … and those of us who knew them are better because of it.
Can the same be said of us?
On this Veterans' Day, we salute you, Ray and Bob, … and all of the brave men and women who have helped to make this world a better, safer place. Thank you!
Michael A. Heery