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Veterans share experiences with students

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Veterans who shared their stories with Palmerton Area High School students during an assembly Monday morning include (front row, seated) Earl Henning, and Timothy Kromer, and in the back row (l-r) Chuck Franisco, Al Kohler,…
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Veterans who shared their stories with Palmerton Area High School students during an assembly Monday morning include (front row, seated) Earl Henning, and Timothy Kromer, and in the back row (l-r) Chuck Franisco, Al Kohler, and Richard Weaver. Not pictured were Father Edward McElduff or Joseph Plechavy.
Published November 13. 2009 05:00PM

Freedom isn't free by any stretch of the imagination.

That was a message conveyed by veterans to Palmerton Area High School students on Monday.

The school hosted A Day For Veterans, at which time several veterans shared their war stories with the students as part of a near-three hour assembly.

High school instructor Audrey Larvey began the assembly with a slide show presentation in recognition of Veterans Day.

Father Edward McElduff served in the U.S. Navy from 1942-1946 in both the European and Pacific operations. He spent two years in the 101st Cavalry of the New York National Guard.

McElduff said he came from a military family, where his father was a two-star admiral, his two uncles Naval Academy graduates, and his mother served in the U.S. Navy during World War I.

While on a mission during the Invasion of France, McElduff was wounded when the airplane he was on hit two mines off the coast.

"I was the navigator, I was blown from the chart house up on one level down to the another deck where I was impaled on the gun rack," McElduth said. "That did severe damage to my spinal column, and has been with me for about 65 years."

For his action, McElduff was awarded the Purple Heart for action on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

"There's nothing glorious about war," he said. "Too many good people get hurt, get killed."

McElduff said he was wounded twice in an aerial attack, before he was sent back to the Pacific Theatre, and then Japan.

"I weighed 89 pounds," he said. "I was a psychological mess, a spiritual mess, an emotional mess, and a physical mess."

McElduff said it's hard to know there are people out there who wanted him dead at that time in his life.

"World War II was fought by teenagers; I was on a ship with 120 men, and kids won that war, they jolly well did," he said. "These guys had a difficult time, they went home and didn't know what to do."

Further, McElduff said those who survived were "scared, scarred, and living with the brutality that was war."

"We considered anybody who was nervous to be a sign of weakness," he said. "You normally wouldn't talk about it, and we cannot express the words to describe those feelings."

"I'm asking you in this day and age to be gentle with them, and be understanding," he said. "Don't condemn them, please go easy, and give them a break, because they deserve it, and they deserve you to attempt to understand; you owe them your understanding."

Soon thereafter, McElduff, of Holy Family Villa, Bethlehem, said he found his calling.

"The Lord tapped me on the shoulder, and I went into the seminary," he said. "I like the peace, tranquility."

McElduff belongs to the Diocese of Allentown, and spent 20 years as pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Lehigh Township.

"Buy into God's plan in life, do what you can, follow your conscience, and be the best person you can be," he said. "I have learned patience and what God's plan for me is ... I'm not going to fight it; I accept it."

Joseph Plechavy, high school music teacher, said his father, the late Joseph Plechavy II, was a World War II veteran of the European Theatre.

"They slept wherever they could, whenever they could, if they could," said Plechavy, who added this his father was wounded after a piece of shell went through into his leg.

Plechavy had various military garb and equipment on display for the students, including a Jeep from that era.

"My dad's love affair with the Jeep began when h was wounded," he said. "He picked up the 1942 Jeep in 1949, and it's been in the family ever since."

Earl Henning, aviation machinist, 2nd class, tail gunner, B24, U.S. Navy, World War II veteran of the Pacific Theatre, thanked the school district for allowing the veterans to honor the present military.

"I'm no hero, all heroes that were are dead; that's how you become a hero," Henning said.

Henning, a graduate of Palmerton Area High School, explained his thoughts on post-traumatic stress.

"I think the toughest veterans I spoke with were the Prisoners of War," he said. "Anybody that's been in combat and has seen dead has post-traumatic stress."

Henning shared his own take on what it takes to move on from the experience.

"The strong person just walks away from it," he said. "For years, I would think I was drowning, as though the plane I was in was being shot down, and I'd hold my breath until I'd wake up."

Henning said he looks back on his time serving our country with pride.

"The real heroes were the dead and the medics," he said. "In my lifetime, my proudest moments in my life were the days I served my country."

Richard Weaver, Sr. master sergeant, U.S. Air Force, retired, resides in Palmerton.

Weaver, a graduate of Lansford High School, said he served in Vietnam from 1968-69.

He explained one experience in particular during his stay at a base in Bein-Hoa in South Vietnam.

"I just dove underneath my bed, the whole sky lit up red, and in the morning, we found huge chunks of bomb casings," he said. "The following night, we had another attack."

Because of the danger that surrounded them, Weaver said things could have turned out much worse.

"I came out of it pretty much unscathed," he said. "We were fortunate we didn't lose but one airplane, so, in that respect, nobody was hurt."

Weaver said several years later, he flew VC135 and VC137 aircraft to places such as Moscow, Russia, as well as China, even flying then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger around.

"It was a great career, and I met a lot of people," he said. "When you heard shots, hear sirens, it takes a long time to get over it."

Weaver said he was able to move on from the experience.

"I went on with my life, and I admire the guys that are still serving," he said. "They are doing a hell of a job for all of us."

Weaver then encouraged the students to participate in programs at their local VFW or American Legion.

"You can write essays to help with your college tuition," he said. "All for a little bit of your time and effort."

Sgt. Timothy Kromer, Pa Army National Guard, has been a member of the Palmerton Police Department since 2002.

Kromer spoke of the times when he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and how his decision to join the National Guard was a wise one.

"It helped me get direction in my life, and to become a police officer," Kromer said. "I learned a lot being deployed; it really makes you appreciate what you have here in the United States that other countries don't have."

However, Kromer said it's a "very difficult war" because "we don't know who the enemy is."

"We have freedom," he said. "The World War I and World War II veterans are the ones who gave the freedom we have, and the ability to live the life you want to live."

Kromer said he's glad he re-enlisted with the National Guard.

"I'm very proud to be a veteran, and my decision to stay gave me a direction in life," he said. "I'm very proud to be a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard."

Chuck Francisco, a recruiter for the National Guard, spoke on the background of Veterans Day, also known as Armistice Day.

Francisco, who said he loved to hear war stories in his youth, said he joined the Navy out of high school, and became an aviation ordnance man for 7 1/2 years. He then joined the Pennsylvania National Guard.

He said Veterans Day in the U.S. is "completely different from any other country in the world."

"Our country was founded as a republic with elected people to represent us," he said. "That's why we're here today and able to enjoy what we're able to enjoy."

Unlike other countries, Francisco said our freedom remains intact.

"Ours is still holding strong," he said. "Patriotism is still alive and well and strong, just different from it was before."

Francisco then told the students they're the "next generation that's here to keep our freedom alive."

"You put on that uniform, that's quite an accomplishment in itself," he said. "That's what Veterans Day is all about."

Francisco said there remains much to do in order to "keep things alive and moving forward."

"You step out and go to other countries in the world, and it's like going back in time," he said. "These veterans did this so their family could have the great prosperity they can have."

Al Kohler served as a petty officer, motor machinist mate second class, U.S. Navy, during World War II from 1943-46.

Kohler, who currently resides in Palmerton and serves as chaplain of the American Legion Post 269, Palmerton, told the students he is "very proud to be a part of the Navy."

However, Kohler cautioned that we have to be even more conscientious now than ever about those we come in contact with.

"Now we have an enemy and they may not be in uniform," he said. "They could be sitting right next to you."

At the end of the program, Larvey thanked the veterans for their time and service. She also thanked Richard and Darlene Nothstein of Palmerton, who attended the assembly.

This past fall, the Nothsteins sponsored a bus trip for veterans to Washington D.C. for the second year in a row.

Various pieces of war memorabilia were set up at the assembly for students to view.

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