Hometown Heroes: Ordinary People Who Did Extraordinary Things
Kelly Bradley, the retired Wyalusing Valley High School English teacher who spearheaded Bradford County’s Hometown Heroes’ street banners program, said at Saturday morning’s dedication ceremony that it was the memory of a high school classmate killed in Viet Nam that inspired her to bring the banners to Bradford County.
Speaking to an audience gathered on the front lawn of Towanda’s American Legion Post, Bradley was the first of 10 speakers at the dedication ceremony.
The event opened with a number of patriotic songs performed by Andy Boardman, who asked the audience to join him in singing God Bless America.
“My desire to recognize the efforts of our men and women in uniform was at least partially motivated by the loss of a high school classmate in Viet Nam 42 years ago,” Bradley said. “He was 21 years old. And all of his life might have been.”
Bradley also noted that as an educator for 34 for years she was repeatedly inspired by young graduates who signed up for tours of duty in the military “knowing full well they could serve in harm’s way in various hotspots around the world.” She said it was this type of sacrifice and courage that inspired her to bring the first round of Hometown Heroes’ banners to Towanda two years ago to recognize the efforts of Bradford County’s men and women in uniform.
“Then, as today,” Bradley continued, “the sole purpose of the Bradford County Hometown Heroes’ Program is to acknowledge the endeavors of ordinary people called upon to do extraordinary things. People willing to sacrifice everything in order for the rest of us to live and prosper in this country. It is important for us to remember that only through the efforts of these ordinary men and women—our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our neighbors and friends in uniform that are we able to lead lives unlike any other place in the world.”
Bradley said the banners placed along the streets of Towanda would serve as a daily reminder of what has been done for us in the past and continues to be done for us today.
Those who Bradley said played important roles in making the banner program a reality included: media specialist Deana Patson; Marcene Billingsly, secretary-treasurer of the Friends of the Bradford County Library, a sponsor of the banner program; Towanda Borough officials Tom Fairchild and Helen Wilcox, Jim Haight and the Towanda Borough workers who installed the banners; the Ballard family, Barry, Karen and Kirstyn who took part in Saturday’s program; Penelec for allowing its poles to be used to display the banners; the Rocket-Courier for publicity and producing programs for Saturday’s dedication ceremony, and special thanks to her husband, John, for his support and to the Towanda American Legion Post 42 and its commander, Daniel Rungo, for the use of the post for the dedication ceremony.
Bradley said she was also deeply indebted to Chesapeake Energy. “Thanks to their generous donation of $25,000, no veteran or veteran’s family had to pay for a banner,” Bradley said. “Instead, the program was able to refund money and sponsored three times the number of banners than had been sponsored by individuals.”
Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith served as master of ceremonies for the dedication. On behalf of the county, Smith congratulated everyone who made the banner program a success and said it was an honor to serve as MC for the event. “Today we take time to remember the service given by so many in the greatest and most free country on earth, and we enjoy the gift of freedom which they have given us.”
Smith said it is likely that in most families in Bradford County there is someone who has served in the armed forces. “Whether it be a brother, a sister, a mother, father, grandparent or great-grandparent, it is obvious that the level of service to our country that this county has contributed is commendable and honorable.”
He said the banners would also serve as a reminder for those who have not served in the military “that we need to take the time to be grateful for what we have and to not take what we have for granted. It is meant to give each and every one of us a chance to look and see the faces of those who gave us such great opportunity. And to further ponder that some gave all, that some did not return. Some of the families who hung banners around this town never saw their loved one again.”
In conclusion, Smith said of the banners, “they are sure to give us pause as we look at them and appreciate what we have because of what so many did. Let us all take a moment to look at the faces of all those who made it possible for what we have today in this county and in this country. Let us all be humbled by the sacrifice of others.”
Commander Rungo introduced Wyalusing Valley High School students Kirstyn Ballard, Paige Millard, Stephan Poost and Adam Brigham who sang the National Anthem following a presentation of the colors by the Post 42 color guard and everyone joining to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Gene Osmun, director of the Bureau of Veterans’ Affairs, conducted a brief ceremony remembering the nation’s prisoners of war and those missing in action. “We are compelled to never forget that while we enjoy our daily pleasures, there are others who have endured and may still be enduring the agonies of pain, deprivation and imprisonment,” Osmun said. He pointed out that a POW/Missing in Action Flag had been placed on an empty chair near the podium symbolizing that members of the nation’s armed forces “are still missing from our ranks.”
For a time during the ceremony, rain threatened but only a light sprinkle resulted and the program proceeded as planned. Reverend Dr. Barry Ballard, pastor of Wyalusing’s Presbyterian Church, presented the invocation. “We acknowledge from our history and our experience that there are those at home and abroad who have sought to restrict or even strip away our freedoms,” Ballard said in his prayer. “Lord, we pause during this ceremony to thank you for the men and women who have dedicated their lives, some even giving their lives, to preserve and defend our freedoms.”
Towanda Mayor Garrett Miller said he was “honored and humbled to have these wonderful banners grace our community. It represents what is definitely right in our country.”
Miller called for a moment of silence in recognition of those currently serving or those who had previously served in the military.
He thanked Chesapeake Energy for its donation and Kelly Bradley and her staff. “I know you don’t want credit, but credit is due to you,” Miller said turning to Bradley.
Dedicating the banners, Miller said, “May they fly with pride. I hope that everyone takes the time to walk by, look at every banner and read the names, and remember the sacrifices,” Miller said, adding that the banners held a personal significance for him because two of the banners featured photos of his father and grandfather.
Pickett: ‘I Feel
Representative Tina Pickett also expressed her thanks to Bradley. “I know she doesn’t like accolades, she doesn’t like to be recognized, but really, how can we not recognize Kelly Bradley over and over again for being the spearhead and making this happen.”
Pickett went on to say that everyone should be proud that Bradford County is participating in the banner program. She said the Hometown Heroes’ Program has brought banners featuring veterans’ photos to communities all across the nation, and this marked the second round of banners coming to Towanda, the first being installed in 2009.
“Every time I drive along one of the streets (where the banners are displayed) I feel enormous pride,” Pickett said. “Not only for our country but for the faces shown on those banners.” She said it’s easy to overlook in the commotion of our daily lives, but “nearly every freedom we enjoy has been paid for with the sacrifices of our men and women who have served and are serving in our armed forces.”
Pickett said the heavy, often slow-moving traffic in the county seat offers an opportunity to view the banners. “Use that traffic. Use it to your advantage to study and to learn the names and the faces of each person on those banners.” Pickett said she did just that the other day when arriving in Towanda and was caught in traffic. “I want to become familiar with each of those people along our streets,” she said. “Every single one of them served for us and every single one of them deserves that moment.”
She also paid tribute to the families of veterans. “These families, whether they were fortunate enough to welcome a loved one home from combat, or whether they still mourn the loss of their brave hero, are essential to supporting those courageous men and women.”
Pickett said there are between 6,000 and 7,000 current Bradford County residents who have served our country. “That’s a staggering number,” she said. “It’s also a number that speaks volumes. A number that demonstrates Bradford County’s patriotism. Behind that number are 6,000-7,000 faces, the men and women who were willing to risk their lives for the sake of protecting democracy. These brave soldiers are indeed very special people. They’re patriotic. They’re selfless. They’re skilled. And they believe in freedom so much that they were willing to give their lives if needed.”
She said the communities in Bradford County rank among the top in the nation when it comes to the percentage of residents who have served in the military. “Pennsylvania consistently ranks in the top five or six states that have produced the largest number of veterans,” she said, adding that currently in the PA House of Representatives there are two members on active reserve status. She also noted that a few of the banners being dedicated were for Bradford County men who fought in the Civil War, which is especially poignant since this year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
“It’s important as we look at these banners,” Pickett said, “that we remember that these men and women are not just veterans. They are our family, our friends, our neighbors. They’ve been community volunteers, public servants and local leaders. When our freedoms have been in danger, it is they who have stepped up to the plate and challenged our adversaries. This land will only be filled with independence as long as we have courageous men and women who are willing to defend our freedom.”
Pickett concluded her remarks with a quote from President John F. Kennedy. “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
Marino: ‘Bradley Is the
In his remarks, Congressman Thomas Marino said, “Just last week we flocked to Memorial Day Parades on Main Streets across the United States. We placed memorial wreaths in honor of the men and women who have given their lives so that we may enjoy the liberties that this great nation provides. And in the fall we will pause on November 11 to honor all of our military men and women past and present, those who have died and those who risk their lives daily in the deserts of the Middle East. But unless we have lost someone who is close to us, it is often difficult to put a face on these statistics. We attempt to do that today.”
Marino also pointed to Kelly Bradley’s work in making the banner program a reality. “Kelly wanted something more than the obligatory programs that we all take part in twice a year. She wanted much more than the parades, the candy for the kids and the playing of Taps. Kelly wanted to put a face to the statistics. She wanted us to look at the banners waving proudly on the streets of Towanda and see the faces of the heroes who walk among us. She wanted to remind everyone who lives and works here that Bradford County is proud of its sons and daughters and forever grateful to them for their service. So today we also extend our gratitude to Kelly Bradley, the consummate teacher, for this great lesson.”
Following Congressman Marino’s remarks, Karen Ballard and her daughter, Kirstyn, sang a selection of patriotic tunes, including This is My Country and My Country Tis of Thee.
In formally dedicating the banners, Gene Osmun said, “Let us hereby dedicate these banners to the men and women who are now serving and are going to serve with the hope and prayer that they return safely to their homes and families after their service is complete.”
Osmun began his remarks, saying it is “fitting and appropriate that we recognize these individuals. They are a representative group that reminds us that there are persons that we know who are serving all around the world on our behalf. It is very easy for us to go on with our daily lives without paying a whole lot of attention to world affairs.” Osmun said he found it humbling to walk the streets of Towanda and view the photos of veterans from throughout the years.
McLaud: ‘Great Americans
Have Stepped Forward’
Captain Chris McLaud of the PA Army National Guard presented the dedication ceremony’s closing remarks.
McLaud said that during the time a person serves in the military, the interests of the nation must always come first. He said family members also make sacrifices in times of separation during deployments and sometimes bear extreme and permanent loss. He said military service also has its rewards such as “developing one’s character, serving a cause greater than any self interest and knowing that our nation’s cause is to bring peace and hope throughout the world. “No single military power in history has done greater good, shown greater courage, liberated more people or upheld higher standards of decency and valor than the armed forces of the United States,” McLaud said. “There is no mystery behind the endurance and success of American Liberty. It is because in every generation from the Revolutionary period to this very hour, great Americans have stepped forward and honorably answered our nation’s call. That is a legacy to be proud of and those who contribute to it deserve much thanks and admiration.”
The program concluded with a benediction by Reverend Dr. Karen Ballard and the playing of Taps. “Lord God, we would all prefer peace,” Reverend Ballard prayed. “But as long as evil exists in this world, we have to fight it and we have to stand against it. And we are grateful to those who responded to that challenge, and to their families who let them go …”
Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko was listed on the program as one of the day’s featured speakers, but he did not attend the dedication.