His voice strong and steady, retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant Nick Paraschak, 92, read aloud the names of those old soldiers who had passed on in the year spanning Memorial Day 2012 and ceremonies held in Coaldale this past Sunday.
Paraschak, who served during World War II, then saluted as a rifle squad of Panther Valley JROTC cadets fired three rounds in honor of the fallen heroes and taps was played.
The Honor Roll was read twice on Sunday in Coaldale, at each of the borough's ceremonies commemorating those who served in the military. The first was held at the memorial in the Seek section of town, at Route 209 and Bull Run Street. The second took place in front of the Veterans Memorial Garden on Phillips Street, next to borough hall.
Both services, sponsored by the United Veterans Organization, featured Capt. Dale A. Wesner, USMC (Ret) as the main speaker, and VFW Post 6982 Commander Staff Sgt. Stephanie Richards as master of ceremonies.
Borough council President Susan Solt spoke at the beginning of both services, recalling her father's service in the U.S. Army, and the military service of her four uncles.
"I know that he was proud to serve," she said of her father. "And I'm proud of that."
She lauded the hard work done by the UVO to "keep the memory of our fallen men and women in our hearts with the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Womens Memorial, and the Memorial Garden."
Solt offered wistful gratitude to a woman whose efforts built a memorial legacy in Coaldale: the late Millie Flyzik.
Wesner, who served more than 25 years in the military, shared with the audience his first awareness of the impact of the death of a soldier.
He recalled visiting Skyview cemetery in Hometown when he was 6 years old. While his father was placing flowers on his parents' graves, Wesner noticed all the little American flags.
"Dad, look at all the flags," he remembered saying.
His father quietly walked him steps away to a grave marked "Sgt. Albert Wesner, 2nd Tank Battalion." It was the final resting place of his father's older brother, who was killed in action on July 7, 1944.
"When I heard that from my Dad about his brother, it really touched me, thinking about the events of Albert's death," Wesner said. "Every Memorial Day since then, I remember Albert, and think about all the heroes, and remember that every service member that has died has someone who is affected by their loss."
Wesner recounted the loss of several brave soldiers, including Coaldale's own Marine Corp. Pvt. John Katchak, who enlisted in the service in 1941, and was stationed at Wake Island.
"In early December 1941, enemy bombers in the opening attack on Wake Island caught 12 of our U.S. planes on the ground, and put eight of the 12 out of action, and killed 25 U.S. Marines," Wesner said.
The young Katchak was among them.
While their sacrifices are recorded in history books and on monuments and buildings, soldiers' deaths leave wounds that can never heal.
Wesner's memories of his own father's loss sharpen each Memorial Day.
"Nothing can ever fill the hole left behind by a fallen service member, and no number of medals or ribbons can ever fully comfort the ones left behind," he said. "America needs to always remember that each person who died was a loved one who is now missed by their families and friends. Each of these fallen heroes is a loss to the nation, and to their communities."
Wesner said that the "service members we honor today came from all walks of life. But they all shared several fundamental qualities. They all possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than themselves."
Wesner also reminded the audience to remember the "wounded warriors," those who come home from battle with injuries. He also urged people to remember the aged veterans in Veterans Administration care facilities.
"Freedom does have a price," he said. "and on this Memorial Day weekend, while we traditionally gather to enjoy barbecues, our families, and our precious liberty, I thank you for taking the time to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and for thinking about those still fighting on the front lines at some very scary places right now. Your attendance today shows your deepest respect for our military men and women. God bless our troops, and God bless America."
Between patriotic selections played by the Panther Valley High School band, Our Lady of Angels student Julia Hoben recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Angela Piscitelli recited "General Logan's Orders," and Brooke Turner recited "In Flander's Fields." The Rev. Daniel Matthewson of St. Mary's Orthodox Church, offered the invocations and closing prayers.