Coaldale honors WWII vets
CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS World War II veteran Anthony "Butch" Konecney holds his hat over his heart as he listens to a prayer at a ceremony held in the Coaldale Veterans Memorial Garden Saturday. At the left is John Wieksner; to the right is Theodore Haldeman.
Steve Tentylo was in a submarine at the bottom of the ocean, bound for Tokyo, when he heard the news that Japan had surrendered, bringing World War II to an end.
"The skipper told us. He first said 'I think the war is over', but he didn't say for sure. Then, 15 minutes later, they got the word that it was all over," he said. "It was exhilarating. It was over, we were jumping up and down. It was a great feeling."
Tentylo was among at least 20 Coaldale World War II veterans honored Saturday at a ceremony held in the borough's Veterans Memorial Garden on Third Street. Saturday was the 65th anniversary of Japan's Aug. 14, 1945 unconditional surrender; eight days after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The following day, Aug. 15, 1945, was celebrated as VJ (Victory over Japan) Day.
The ceremony was bittersweet; the now-aging veterans, many supported by walkers or canes, are among the last of their generation of soldiers, sailors and pilots. On Saturday, they sat in folding chairs in front of the gray granite pillars bearing their names, and the names of those veterans who have passed.
"The men gathered here before our World War II Memorial Wall represent just a small fraction of those from Coaldale who unselfishly and valiantly served our nation's military during a period of great crisis," said master of ceremonies William Gaddes, himself a Korean War veteran. "These men and women were responsible for saving the free world ... 53 men from Coaldale gave the ultimate sacrifice."
Many believe that Coaldale ranks first in the United States in the number of people, per capita, who served in the military during World War II.
"When World War II began, there were about 5,900 people in Coaldale, and there are 1,355 names on the wall," Gaddes said. "That represents more than 22 percent of the population ... versus approximately 11 percent for the nation as a whole."
Borough council President Sue Solt reminded the crowd that 405,000 Americans died during World War II, along with countless numbers of allies.
"These brave men and women demonstrated courage," she said. "They demonstrated selflessness. they stood up for good against evil, for you and me, all in the name of freedom."
Mayor Richard Corkery held up a yellowed, fragile copy of the Philadelphia Record, with a headline proclaiming "War is Over."
He read the proclamation, and spoke of the veterans' sacrifices.
"No one could ever, ever begin to thank you for the service that you have rendered our country at its most difficult time," he said. Corkery spoke of the controversy surrounding the dropping of the atomic bomb.
"However, (then-President) Harry Truman at that time indicated that it would take 250,000 American lives to invade Japan and bring it to an end, and he just would not stand for that," he said. Corkery said that in all probability, not all of the veterans attending the service would be here today had "Harry Truman not had the backbone and the guts and the courage to make that decision."
The Rev. Daniel Matthewson, pastor of St. Mary's Orthodox Church, said several of the veterans are parishioners.
"Our lives are built upon those who have given their lives up for us," he said. Matthewson said World War II veterans are dying at a rate of about 1,000 a day.
"We thank God for you," he told the veterans assembled behind him. "We thank God that you stand for this freedom that we're here about." He pointed out that the veterans' names are carved into granite. "Not on sandstone, but on granite something that's going to last for a long time. Of course, even this granite will eventually pass away, but it's symbol stands true, and that is that we need to give our lives and our hearts to a dedication to freedom," he said.
Matthewson encouraged his audience to "give your lives to God. That is where the ultimate freedom is found. Even beyond our own doubt, our dedication to Him represents complete and utter freedom for eternity. One day, by God's grace, we will join with those men who gave their lives again. We'll join with them in paradise to sing the praises of God for true freedom."
The ceremony also acknowledged Coaldale Navy veteran Norman Richards, who was laid to rest on Saturday.