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Area Memorial Day Services Well Attended

Sgt. Benjamin Chamberlin Presents Wyalusing Address;

Don James Memorial Award Presented in Black Walnut

Memorial Day Services Conducted at Wyalusing Cemetery

By Kelly Cole

It was a day to honor, reflect  and be thankful for those who have stepped forward over time to serve and protect our country.

There were many people gathered on the grounds of the Wyalusing Cemetery Monday to honor U.S. servicemen and women who died while in the military services.

Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day and was first observed in 1886 in the Finger Lakes village of Waterloo, NY to honor fallen Union soldiers.

Today, members of the American Legion distribute red poppies in exchange for donations to mark Memorial Day. Prior to Memorial Day in 1922, the VFW became the first veterans’ group to distribute poppies nationally. The poppy tradition was begun by Moina Michael in 1915 after being inspired by the poem “In Flanders Field.” She began to wear a red poppy to honor those who had died in the war. To this she penned a response that seems quite fitting:

We cherish too, the Poppy red That grows on fields where valor led It seems to signal to the skies That blood of heroes never dies.

During the services, Rachel Murphy led the Wyalusing Valley High School Band in the National Anthem.

 A powerful bugle call that we all associate with this day is Taps, which was played at countless cemeteries and meeting halls across the country during services on Monday. Even though there are just 24 notes to this short piece, it is one that has no room for error. Post 534 member Lew Reinhart performed Taps on the post’s electronic bugle.

The Wyalusing American Legion Post 534 color guard and rifle squad conducted the service and performed the 21-gun salute to honor our veterans. Those in the color guard were Sandy Myhand, Bill Zaner and Dewey Cokely.

Staff Sergeant Benjamin Chamberlin from Terry Township delivered a moving speech for those in attendance.

"First, I would like to say thank you and welcome ladies, gentlemen and veterans in attendance today at our Memorial Day service. After being asked by our Post Commander, John Driscoll, to be the guest speaker at this year’s Memorial Day Ceremony, I knew I had a great task ahead of me in conveying the words that would honor our nation’s veterans that have given all, so that we as Americans can enjoy the rights and freedoms guaranteed by our Founding Fathers. From the American Revolution to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other hot spots in the world, our military has always been there for not only the freedoms of our nation, but also when there were people of other nations that sought to be free also. They have done what was asked of them with honor and dignity and often, many times, have made the ultimate sacrifice for these precious freedoms. Places with names like Bunker Hill, Antietam, San Juan Hill, the  Meuse-Argonne, Iwo Jima, the Hertgen Forest, Pusan Perimeter, Ia Drang Valley, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and unfortunately places during the ‘Cold War’ that have yet to be named. As it stands today, fewer than one percent of our population takes the oath to defend our freedoms and the freedoms of the oppressed. Let us hope and pray that as time goes on, the sacrifices of these warriors will be remembered and honored by a proud nation. God Bless and protect those that are in harm’s way today."

After Chamberlin’s speech, the rifle squad from Post 534 conducted a 21-gun salute. Members of the squad included Wayne Morrow, Robert Oliver Jr., Pete Hatton, John Driscoll, Carlton Repsher, Robert Morris and Ronald Ross.

After the service, the public was invited to attend a dinner at Post 534.

Priestner Receives Don James

Light House of Service Award

Bob Priestner, Meshoppen (South Auburn), was presented with the 2011 Don James Memorial Lighthouse of Service Award on Monday at the Black Walnut American Legion’s annual Memorial Day service.

Priestner, who is originally from New Jersey but settled in Meshoppen as a young man, said he was “overwhelmed” and “very very grateful...honored” to receive the award. “I’ve always had a lot of help,” he said, speaking of the accomplishments with which he was credited. “It’s never just been me.”

However, the committee who selects from the several worthy nominees apparently felt Priestner’s record belied his modesty. Crystal Hons, who told the audience of approximately 150 about Priestner prior to the award’s presentation, spoke of his strong faith, his devotion to his family and his service in the military, which evinced his love of country. She recounted how even as a young boy Priestner had volunteered with the Red Cross. At 19, Priestner joined the Marines and served from 1960-1963, attaining the rank of an E4. He completed tours in Okinawa and the Philippines.

After marrying, he moved to Meshoppen and worked as an electrical specialist for Procter & Gamble’s Mehoopany plant. Priestner has led 4H groups, coached Squidget Baseball, volunteered with the Meshoppen Fire Company, the Endless Mountains Nature Center and Camp Lackawanna. He has been active in the United Methodist Church in Meshoppen, helping to build their Sunday school, remodel the kitchen and renovating the electrical and lighting system, as well as the sound system.

Priestner has been tireless helping to transport sick people to doctors’ visits and treatments, helping the disabled with chores around their homes and visiting people in nursing homes.

“I’m humbled,” Priestner said, “to think that I am receiving this award named in memory of Don [James].” Priestner and James had been close and Priestner’s installation of the sound system at the United Methodist Church was in his friend’s memory.

Stevensville resident Dean Balcomb received the first Light House of Service Award last year on Memorial Day.

Monday’s service began with a solemn procession from the Black Walnut Cemetery to the Legion, after which the Endless Mountains Barbershop Chorus opened the service with the National Anthem.

Keynote speaker Col. George Gay, USMC Ret., addressed those assembled in a brief speech which gave the history of “Decoration Day” as Memorial Day was originally called. He mentioned the pride local citizens took in the celebration and added that a visitor from a foreign country had recently remarked on the display of the nation’s flag along streets and at private homes. The flag, he said, reminds us of the sacrifices made by veterans, and although flowers on a grave are lovely, Gay said flags “adorn graves like flowers never can.”

Gay reminded everyone that men and women were still serving in all branches of the armed forces all over the world, despite the fact that news of military action seems to have disappeared from the front pages of newspapers and from the top stories of newscasts. Of those serving in the armed forces, Gay told his audience to “thank them while you still can.”

Following the speaker and the presentation of the Lighthouse Award, there was a patriotic/spiritual program by Gail James and the chorus, consisting of slides and songs. The service ended with a prayer, a rifle salute and the playing of Taps.

Sgt. Benjamin Chamberlin addressing the crowd at the Wyalusing Cemetery. Photo by Kelly ColeSgt. Benjamin Chamberlin addressing the crowd at the Wyalusing Cemetery. Photo by Kelly Cole
Colonel George Gay, speaker at the Black Walnut observance. Colonel George Gay, speaker at the Black Walnut observance. 
Lighthouse  of Service Award recipient Bob Priestner with his two grandsons, Doug (8, on left) and Jim (11, on right) after the procession to the Black Walnut Legion's Memorial Day service on Monday. Photo by D.C. KoviackLighthouse  of Service Award recipient Bob Priestner with his two grandsons, Doug (8, on left) and Jim (11, on right) after the procession to the Black Walnut Legion's Memorial Day service on Monday. Photo by D.C. Koviack

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