By Rebecca Zemencik, Managing Editor • firstname.lastname@example.org
ELIZABETHVILLE – Patriotism was evident on Market Street in Elizabethville, Monday morning as the community, friends and relatives gathered for the Hometown Heroes Banner Unveiling celebration.
The Elizabethville Area Bicentennial Committee came up with the idea as a tribute to veterans and those currently deployed who are serving the country and/or have connections to the Elizabethville area. Banners were installed on utility poles throughout the town of Elizabethville including North and South Market Street; East and North Main Street and Church Street.
Each individual banner is unique and honors a specific veteran including their picture, branch of service, era of service and hometown. The program is non-political and non-partisan. It is purely a living memorial to those who have served the country.
On Memorial Day the 102 banners were unveiled. To kick off the event, a ceremony was held in front of the Memorial Wall by the American Legion Post 404, 7 South Market Street.
The 30-minute ceremony included participation from area boy and girl scouts, the singing of the National Anthem by Upper Dauphin Area High School Senior Mackenzie Lentz, an invocation by Pastor Lewis; brief remarks from Gary Shadle, Elizabethville Borough; brief remarks by Ben Brown, Washington Twp. Supervisor; words from State Representative Mike Tobash; the playing of America the Beautiful by the Upper Dauphin Area Marching Band and the unveiling of the hometown heroes banners.
Elizabethville’s own Mike Wertz, who is a United States Navy veteran of the Vietnam Era, was the guest speaker at the ceremony.
Wertz spoke about what a hometown means to him.
“What is a hometown?” asked Wertz. “To me it’s a place where people support you, everyone knows your business, because it’s a small town, but when there’s a problem, everyone comes to help and support too.”
Wertz said the Vietnam Vets never had a welcome home celebration. The war was protested and there were no celebrations.
“We were instructed as soon as we hit American soil to get out of our uniform so that people wouldn’t give us a hard time,” said Wertz. “But, it wasn’t like that for me here at home in Elizabethville. I was welcomed home and people were happy to see me.”
Wertz was serving in Vietnam and had one more month to go when he got word that his sister had been involved in a terrible accident. He was sent home on emergency leave and his sister died one day after he got home. According to Wertz, the Navy said he was five days short to be released so they were going to keep him in another 14 months.
“This is where my hometown rallied for me,” said Wertz. “There were about four bus loads of people ready to go to the Pentagon and protest on my behalf. The townspeople, my local and state representatives were all backing me and trying to help. Finally the Navy decided to extend my leave and give me my early leave. That’s what a hometown is all about.”
Wertz also talked about heroes.
“I don’t care what branch of the military you served in, I don’t care if you never left the states or not, to me you are a hero,” said Wertz. “You signed a blank check with your life and were willing to sacrifice it all for this great country. That’s a hero in my eyes. Just going through the training is dangerous. They use live ammo and grenades. In today’s world, the military doesn’t know where the enemy is or who the enemy is. It’s a danger no matter where you serve and they all deserve the same respect.”
Wertz thanked the entire community, the Elizabethville Area Bicentennial Committee and sub committee for the tribute to the hometown veterans.
At the close of the ceremony, family members of Brett Shadle, a Navy Seal who was killed in a training accident in 2013, unveiled Shadle’s banner which is located on Main Street in front of Koppy’s on the Square. Unveiling the banner were Shadle’s grandfather, Leroy Hepner, his uncle, Kevin Hepner and his brother, Aaron Shadle.
Families and friends were then invited to walk to their banners and unveil them.
The committee reminded the public that orders for banners are still being taken until September 30. Orders will be taken until that date or until the committee runs out of utility poles.
To order a banner visit http://www.elizabethvillehometownheroes.com. All information and the form can be found on the website. The banners cost $150.
Banners ordered by September 30 will be unveiled for Veteran’s Day.
The banners will remain hanging until the Bicentennial Celebration August 2017 in Elizabethville.