Tamaqua kicks off Memorial Day events
U.S. Navy Capt. John H. Lea III and U.S. Army Col. Hank Steinhilder, seated, both retired chaplains, were special guests at the Tamaqua Remembers opening ceremony, A Night of Honors, on Tuesday. The volunteer group has a month long list of activities leading up to the 150th observance of Memorial Day. KATHY KUNKEL/TIMES NEWS
Cameo Semasek prepares to unveil a new street sign in Tamaqua, changing the name of the street closest to the Tamaqua American Legion from Nescopec Street to Memorial Avenue.
Franklin Klock and “Rennie” from the Carbon County Environmental Education Center provide a living lesson on America’s national symbol during the Night of Honors in Tamaqua on Tuesday.
This field of poppies was painted by Alaina Kate Welsh, a Tamaqua Area Senior High School student, as part of a class project designed by teacher Kim Woodward as part of the Tamaqua Remembers project. The students’ art works will be displayed in the windows of downtown Tamaqua businesses throughout the month of May.
“These sons of the coal country, every last one of them, was a hero.”
Nearly 200 people heard these words Tuesday night from retired U.S. Navy Capt. John H. “Jack” Lea III, during the Tamaqua Remembers Night of Honors tribute to kick off a monthlong series of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day.
The preview event, in honor of the 91 men from Tamaqua who gave their lives defending freedom, the unveiling of a mural and the renaming of a portion of one of Tamaqua’s streets.
The event planned by a small group of volunteers, with backing from the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership.
The evening started with an educational presentation featuring “Rennie” the American bald eagle and Franklin Klock of the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. “Rennie” kept an eye on the ever growing crowd, occasionally flapping her wings in either agreement or protest, while Klock discussed how the majestic birds became a national symbol, came back from the point of extinction, are considered sacred by Native Americans and provided a glimpse into their life cycles.
The Italian American Band of the Lehigh Valley stirred the crowd with a rousing rendition of John Philip Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” and provided the musical accompaniment as the crowd joined voices in the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Micah Gursky of the TACP served as master of ceremonies, with retired U.S. Army Chaplain Col. Hank Steinhilber, providing the invocation and benediction.
One of the most compelling parts of the entire Tamaqua Remembers project was the collection and cataloging the names and details of the 91 Tamaqua men who lost their lives during wars, stretching back to the Civil War. Chris Fulmer, Joe Nihen and Lois Mackin conducted the research, provided a synopsis of the brave souls, breaking down the statistics.
State Sen. Dave Argall introduced Lea, who traveled from his home in Virginia, back to his Pennsylvania roots. Argall has kept in touch with his former classmate and join him on Omaha Beach for his military retirement ceremony.
The retired Army captain, a member of the Chaplain Corps, shared some of his personal military memories, then brought to life the actions of several of the men he called “heroes.”
John Daniel Edwards lost his life while sinking a German sub in World War II, while Rear Adm. William A. Gill refused to leave his sinking ship until all of his men were safe.
“People who join the military face an uncertain future,” he said. “Starting with basic training, the military takes you from self to selfless. Where do you get people like these? These sons of the coal country, your husbands, fathers, brothers and uncles, all said ‘I will go.’ They sacrificed all of their tomorrows so we might be here today.”
Tamaqua artist Kevin Smith spent hour upon hour transforming a blank concrete wall along Cottage Avenue into a fitting tribute to the men who paid the ultimate price for freedom.
“I’ve had an interest in creating a mural since I moved to Tamaqua. This 70-foot long wall provided the perfect opportunity. When it came time to add the names of the deceased veterans, it played with my head a bit. I wanted to do them justice. It was a great honor to do this as the first project of our new Wagon Works Studio.”
Lea asked the crowd to continue to remember all of America’s veterans.
“Don’t let them down. It’s critical that our nation honor those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The last lines of our national anthem ask ‘does that star spangled banner yet wave, over the land of the free and the home of the brave?’ From all of the Tamaquas across this Republic, the answer is yes.”
For a list of Tamaqua Remembers activities, visit www.tamaquaremembers.com or the Tamaqua Remembers Facebook page.