Speaker tells of personal experiences of growing up in Coaldale; honors friend
CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Julian Rickert, 9, stands proud as he holds the Sons of the American Legion flag as part of the color guard at Sunday's Memorial day services in Coaldale.
Standing on tippytoes in order to reach the microphone, Our Lady of Angels sixth-grade student Julia Hoben confidently recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address at Coaldale's two Memorial Day observances Sunday.
Julia was one of several people to take part in the ceremonies. The first ceremony was held in the Seek section of the borough, and the second in front of the Veterans' Memorial Garden, next to Borough Hall.
The featured speaker was John Busavage, captain, U.S. Coast Guard, Ret. A graduate of Coaldale High School, he spoke of the branch's history and role, and of his personal experiences. Busavage mentioned school mate, the late 1st Lt. Norman Nesterak.
"I would like to honor a friend of mine who was one year behind me in high school, in scouts with me, in the band, and went to U.S. Military Academy a year behind me. Later after graduation we had hoped to get together as he was going to teach at the U.S. Military Academy and I was at the Coast Guard Academy. But he never made it to his first post in Vietnam," Busavage said.
He asked for a moment of silence for Nesterak, who was killed in action in Vietnam. His mother, Mary Nesterak, is Coaldale's last surviving Gold Star Mother.
Busavage told those gathered for the ceremonies how his father had taken him at age 14 to the coal mines.
"Since both my grandfather and father were coal miners, somehow Dad got me down inside to see the mines. And he said there was no way they had the money to send me to college, so I needed to study to get a scholarship or else I would end up working there in the mines. Talk about incentive. Four years and two B's and all the rest A's later, I made sure I had a couple scholarship options," he said.
Busavage went on to enroll in the Coast Guard Academy.
"I was proud of the fact the Coaldale High School had seven or eight graduates at all four service academies," he said. "That tells you a lot about the family values and good school we had in Coaldale."
Navy veteran Dick Donald, professor emeritus at Bloomsburg University, spoke at the borough hall ceremony.
He praised the Veterans' Memorial Garden, particularly the wishing well that honors the sacrifices of women, including Gold Star Mothers.
"No one suffered more than the mothers when we were away," he said. "No one expected that telegram, or that knock on the door more than mothers."
Donald spoke of his harrowing experiences at sea, in the company of his buddy, Coaldale native Paul Bortniak. The two survived seven major engagements, and Halsey's Typhoon. The December 1944 typhoon was named for Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, killed 790 sailors.
"We lost three ships, and a lot of young sailors. Remember, we were 18, 19 at the time," he said.
The ceremonies also included music by the Panther Valley band, under the direction of Mark Christ; and the Panther Valley JROTC, which included a color guard and rifle squad under the direction of Kenneth J. Markovich, senior Army instructor at the high school.
Air Force veteran William Gaddes served as master of ceremonies, with the Rev. Wayne Benack offering the prayers.
Janet Kupec read the honor roll of those veterans who have died in the past year.
Borough Council president Sue Solt spoke about the need to honor veterans. Panther Valley High School student and JROTC Platoon Sgt. Patrick Iezzoni recited "In Flanders Field," and student and JROTC Company Commander Georgiana Butler recited General Logan's Orders.