Christine LeClair grinds her teeth when she hears someone say the words “Happy Memorial Day”.
Educating the younger generation on the true meaning of the holiday was just one message the Carbon County Director of Veterans Affairs left with a large crowd on Monday in Palmerton Borough Park.
“While whoever utters this phrase may have the best of intentions,” said LeClair, “I can assure you these words are not spoken in Arlington National Cemetery or in the homes of the Gold Star families. this we can say that we will remember or never forget. ”
Local veterans certainly weren’t forgotten during Palmerton’s annual Memorial Day festivities, which began with a parade down Delaware Avenue, followed by a service in the park, where LeClair was the guest speaker.
“Our coming together is just a small spark in the flame of pride that burns across the country today and every day,” said LeClair. “It’s not a lot, but it’s a way of honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live in freedom.”
The ceremony was hosted by the Palmerton United Veterans Organization and moderated by George Duell, a member of the Palmerton American Legion Post 269.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to take a break and remember these veterans who lost their lives,” Duell said of the event.
In Monday’s parade, Joe Uhnak, first vice-commander of the Palmerton American Legion Post 269, joined his grandson, Dillon Uhnak, 12, to lay a wreath at the veterans memorial. Peyton Mantz, 9, of Girl Scout Troop 3305 in Palmerton, took part in the parade as Miss Poppy 2021, and wreaths were also laid for the Revolutionary Soldier at the police station and town hall.
Palmerton Mayor William Gallagher said the UVO also recently placed more than 1,600 American flags on the graves of all the veterans who rest in peace in the cemeteries of Palmerton, Bowmanstown and Trachsville.
“Last Friday,” said Gallagher, “the UVO visited these same cemeteries to offer a prayer, a rifle salute and the haunting sounds of a lone bugle honoring those who have answered the country’s call by playing sandals.”
Six veterans, including Uhnak, LeClair, Jack Scott, Steven M. Hahn and Frank Lach, received Quilts of Valor at the ceremony. The handmade quilts, thanking veterans for their service, have been distributed locally every year since 2017.
Palmerton Area High School sophomore Hannah Serfass performed “God Bless America” while senior Matthew Yurkunas read “In Flanders Field”.
The Palmerton Area High School band played a mix of patriotic tunes.
The crowd also had the chance to hear the late Harry Brown, who died last year, read “I Am Your Flag” one last time via a recorded recording. Brown had recited it for many years at the Memorial Day ceremony.
Last year LeClair was named the recipient of the John C. “Ace” Mann Blue Cap of the Year Award 2020.
The award is one of the highest awards given by the American Legion in Pennsylvania. She made two tours of Iraq and a tour of Central America, where she worked on counter-narcotics missions, traveling to Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador to work with their military in the hope of stopping the drug cartels who attempted to transport drugs to the United States, before returning to the Panther Valley area.
“We are here today to honor our heroes, to remember their courage and dedication, and to say thank you for their sacrifices,” she said. “Thinking of those heroes who join us only in spirit, one cannot help but feel awe at the enormity of what they have encountered in their short but heroic lives.”
It wasn’t just the men and women who died in action, said LeClair, who is to be remembered on Remembrance Day. She also paid tribute to those who lost their lives in training exercises and those who brought the war home and committed suicide.
“Today our troops continue to make the ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “Even though they fall defending our freedoms, more and more Americans are stepping forward and saying that I am ready to serve. They follow in the footsteps of generations of good Americans and set an example for generations to come. “
Joe Uhnak, left, Palmerton American Legion Post 269 first vice-commander, shares a moment with his 12-year-old grandson Dillon after laying a wreath at the Palmerton Veterans Memorial on Monday. See more photos on tnonline.com JARRAD HEDES / TIMES NEWS
Members of the Palmerton United Veterans Organization take part in Monday’s Memorial Day parade. JARRAD HEDES / TIMES NEWS
Christine LeClair, Director of Veterans Affairs for Carbon County, addresses the crowd at the Palmerton Memorial Day service on Monday. JARRAD HEDES / TIMES NEWS
Joe Uhnak, Palmerton American Legion Post 269’s first vice-commander, receives a Valor Quilt for his service as part of Monday’s Memorial Day service. JARRAD HEDES / TIMES NEWS