Hour of Honor
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS In the twilight of a summer's eve, honor is given to those Pennsylvanias who lost their lives in service to their country in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Chris Bryner plays "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, and Tom Bowditch and Bill Feich of the Monroe County American Legion Honor Guard stand guard over the makeshift tribute to the fallen soldiers, at the "Hour of Honor" held in Stroudsburg every month.
"Private First Class Aaron J. Rusin, Johnstown. Specialist Matthew J. Sandri, Shamokin. First Lt. Neil Anthony Santoriello, Verona."
In all, 228 names are read aloud and they float up to heaven on a warm summer's eve, where it is hoped the Supreme Commander of all, hears the supplications of those standing in solemn prayer for those who have lost their lives overseas to be at eternal rest. It is their "Hour of Honor."
The "Hour of Honor" has been held for the last 34 months, since Sept. 11, 2006, in rain, shine or snow, in the Monroe County Courthouse Square, to pay homage to the servicemen and women from Pennsylvania who have paid the ultimate price of freedom in either Afghanistan or Iraq.
George Warden, Monroe County's Prothonotary and Clerk of Courts, wanted a way to honor those from the state of Pennsylvania, "who gave the last full measure."
He came up with the idea of meeting on the 11th of every month in the square, where there is a bronze statue of a World War I soldier and monument to all those who served their country.
At the first "Hour of Honor," there were initially 137 names that were read, including their rank and hometown. With each month, unfortunately, more names have been added. For every person whose life was lost, there is also a luminary lit in his or her honor among fluttering American flags.
Chris Bryner, a bagpiper with the Stroudsburg Pocono Region Pipes and Drum, plays gallantly all the hymns of the branches of military services. A guest preacher offers prayer. Visitors sing patriotic songs. Sometimes Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops attend. Representatives of Operation: Touch of Home are always present.
Each month a different honor guard stands at attention before an empty pair of boots with a soldier's carbine and helmet, representing the fallen, made by Tom Bowditch of the Monroe County Honor Guard and a Vietnam veteran.
He says, "We do this to honor these kids. It's something our Vietnam vets never got."
James Fuller of PA Sound System says that the "Hour of Honor" might be small, but hopes attendance gets bigger.
"Everyone should be honoring our soldiers. They're keeping us all safe over here," he says.
The attendance varies from 12 to 200.
Even visitors to the town for the first time attend, drawn to the square by the music.
"We're on vacation and just walking around and saw them setting everything up. We asked what it was for and decided to stay," says Binna Fronda, 21 of Brooklyn, N.Y. She was with her sister, Angela, 16, her friend Annmarie Inqraeallo, 15, grandmother, Angela Padovno and mom and dad, Angela and Michael Fronda.
"This is a very good thing to do. I think all towns in America should do this," says Michael Fronda.
But attendance is not the motivating factor for "Hour of Honor."
"It's right and proper to remember our fallen. To never forget them," says Warden. "We pray for those serving, wherever they are. These folks have given so much. This is just a little something to do for them.
"We're not pro war or anti war. We just want everyone to feel connected," says Warden.
The next "Hour of Honor" will be on Friday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse Square in Stroudsburg at 7th and Monroe streets. They will not only honor the now 231 Pennsylvanians that gave their all in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also pay a special tribute to those heroes and citizen patriots of Sept. 11, 2001.
It is hoped that word will spread throughout Pennsylvania and all states so that towns all across America will hold their own "Hour of Honor" and take at least a few minutes in every month to say "Thank you" to those who died so we might be free.
"We'll keep doing it as long as it's needed," says Warden.
The prayer that ends each "Hour of Honor" asks that no new names be added to the list.
Marc Tasetano raises his trumpet and plays the mournful and haunting melody of "Taps" and it resonates in the quiet of the evening, marking the end of a soldier's day.
"Lance Corporal Travis M. Stottlemyer, Hatfield. Sgt. Francis J. Straub, Philadelphia. Specialist William R. Sturges, Spring Church."