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Tamaqua takes on new initiative

Tamaqua still remembers.

After last year’s monthlong observance leading to Memorial Day in honor of the holiday’s 150th anniversary, organizer Eric Zizelmann felt there was still work left to be done.

That’s because one of the ideas suggested for “Tamaqua Remembers” last year, a series of video remembrances, was put to the side due to time issues.

Feeling that the series was still an important, integral part of any Memorial Day remembrance, Zizelmann gathered a few volunteers and decided to work the project for this year, recognizing both Memorial Day and the 100th anniversary of the American Legion organization.

While last year’s project was solely about veterans from within the borough of Tamaqua, the new initiative includes those who gave their lives for their country who hailed from all of the surrounding townships and the borough of Coaldale.

“Last year, due to the sheer size of the overall project and all the preliminary research we had to conduct, we had to limit our scope to the 92 Tamaqua veterans that we found who gave the ultimate sacrifice. This year, we want to expand that and begin to add all veterans from within the Tamaqua Area School District and Coaldale, thanks to contacts made through our website and Facebook page,” says Zizelmann.

This segment of the project contains 15 short videos, with the first to be released on the Tamaqua Remembers Facebook page and a newly created Tamaqua Remembers YouTube channel on Monday. This will feature a look back at last year’s celebration.

The rest of the videos will be released every few days leading up to Memorial Day. Five videos will provide insight into the elements that surround National Military Appreciation Month, which is celebrated each May. In addition to Memorial Day, May military observances include Armed Forces Day, Victory in Europe Day and Loyalty Day as well as several others. Nine veterans, representing almost every American involved armed conflict, will be featured in the final videos for this year.

One of those, in honor of the Legion’s anniversary, is Clarence Heathborne Berry for whom the Tamaqua Legion was named. Berry was killed in France during World War I, on Sept. 29, 1918. He was one of five men from his company that were killed that day as they took part in a wagon train supplying front line troops. The men were part of the 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division of the U.S. Army.

Zizelmann and his family have been actively involved in Tamaqua’s Memorial Day observances since 1988. After taking over planning for the annual event in 2014, he began to consider ways to do more than just a parade and memorial service. That led to last year’s multifaceted event, with guest speakers such as author and retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters and Tracy Fisher, who painstakingly researched what happened to America’s war dead for her college history dissertation.

Fisher is involved in this year’s project. Videographer is Ron Andruscavage, with volunteers narrating the videos. Custom music was written specifically for each individual video.

Plans are also to show the documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” at 7 p.m. May 2 at the Tamaqua Community Art Center, 125 Pine St., Tamaqua. The documentary was directed and produced by Peter Jackson for the BBC with cooperation from England’s Imperial War Museum.

The film was created from 100 hours of archived film footage from World War I, most of it having never been previously seen by the public. In addition to digitizing the film for posterity, Jackson was able to colorize the film and use BBC audio and a collection of veteran interviews conducted by the IWM to create a more realistic experience.

Zizelmann hopes the video series, which was produced through a cooperative effort with the Tamaqua American Legion and the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, will be a multiyear project, and is already planning for next year.

“We honor our veterans largely as a group on Memorial Day, but sometimes lose sight of the individual stories. These men and women had plans and dreams for their futures. Their lives included families, jobs, friends. This project is designed to humanize those names on the wall, the people we need to remember.”

Artist Kevin Smith of Tamaqua created this mural for last year’s Tamaqua Remembers Memorial Day celebration. This year, he needs to add a name to the wall after researchers discovered another Tamaqua man who died in the Battle of Gettysburg. The research was done in preparation for a new Memorial Day project, a series of videos designed to provide more intimate details of local residents who served their country. FILE PHOTO