If you had wandered into Allentown’s West Park at mid-morning Sunday, you would have come across a small knot of people in leafy Veterans Grove, where the war monuments stand.
It was the annual Purple Heart Day Service of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Lehigh Valley Chapter 190. Fifteen visitors and 10 combat-wounded veterans of World War II through the Vietnam War faced a monument and tree dedicated on Aug. 7, 1990, to the group’s “departed patriots.” Aug. 7 is the date in 1782 when Gen. George Washington created a “badge of military merit” – the ancestor of the Purple Heart — for enlisted soldiers who had performed bravely in the Revolution.
The West Park ceremony came a day after a helicopter crash in Afghanistan killed 30 Americans and eight Afghans. Purple Heart Commander Mike
Mescavage noted what amounted to the single deadliest loss for U.S. troops since the war in Afghanistan began a decade ago.
Mike introduced me and invited me to say a few words. I said it was disappointing that so few people showed up to pay tribute to the wounded vets. We owe them everything, I said, and can never do too much for them.
Chuck Jackson, a Vietnam War vet, tolled a bell for each of the chapter’s members who died in the last year – Frank G. Dergosits, Jayme R. Gangaway, Russel C. Stocker and Graydon H. Woods. Graydon, known as Woody, was the subject of my Veterans Day 2009 war story in The Morning Call, http://www.mcall.com/news/all-graydon-woods,0,5730339.story.
Joe Motil, another of my war story subjects, http://www.mcall.com/news/all-joseph-motil,0,5517570.story, and Sam Wentzel placed a wreath at
the monument. Joe, who is 93, then joined an honor guard that fired a
three-volley salute, which was followed by the playing of taps.
Two women standing together were among the onlookers on this muggy morning – Bess Peters and her daughter, Linda Peters. Bess’ husband, Robert, died in 2007 at age 87. He was wounded while serving with the Army in Europe during World War II, and got a Bronze Star as well as a Purple Heart.
“We come to all the veteran events,” Linda said. “So many people forget them. We kind of keep them in our hearts.”