BY ROBERT L. BAKER
Wyoming County Press Examiner
Services across Wyoming County Monday, beckoned area residents to take time out of their busy lives to reflect on the sacrifices of those who had gone before.
Col. Dennis Tewksbury, a 1980 Elk Lake graduate who is presently with the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute at Carlisle Military Barracks, addressed those gathered at the Black Walnut American Legion.
Sgt. Cortney Tyler spoke to those gathered in the Evergreen Cemetery in Factoryville, Jane Lee spoke to another group gathered at the Nicholson Cemetery and Rep. Sandra Major spoke to those gathered in Tunkhannock on the courthouse lawn following the Memorial Day Parade.
Tewksbury said he was grateful that people still paused to remember those who had fallen to keep the nation free.
He agreed with John Stuart Mill who wrote during the American Civil War that “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.”
Tewksbury said, again quoting Mill that “A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares about more than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
And then Col. Tewksbury asked rhetorically, “So why do people serve?”
He noted that war elevates qualities of compassion, kindness and heroism to new levels as a simple sense of duty.
“It’s not for glory or self-absorption,” Tewksbury said. “They do it because the job needs to be done.”
He added that as veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice are honored, “let us not forget the Gold Star families” from World War II (1941-45) and the Civil War (1861-65), among the longest of wars with staggering numbers of deaths.
“The soldiers’ length of separation was always tempered by dreams of the day when they would be reunited,” Tewksbury said, “but not all came home.”
He read from an 1861 letter from a soldier in the Civil War to his wife, Sarah, and noted, “My courage does not halt or falter… I am willing- perfectly willing- to lay down all my joys in this life…never forget how much I love you.”
Well, he noted, Major Sullivan Ballou never made it home.
A week after penning the letter to his wife, Ballou and 93 of his men were mortally wounded at the Battle of Bull Run.
Tewksbury then invoked the name of 26-year-old Cory Mracek, who 140 years later jumped on an explosive device in Iraq to shield his military unit from greater casualties.
Mracek was from a small town in Nebraska – not unlike those in northeastern Pennsylvania, Tewksbury said – and in the winter of 2004, he paid a visit.
Then Lt. Col. Tewksbury was the regimental commander for Mracek’s unit, and said the young man was a member of a long line of great 82nd Airborne sergeants.
He noted, “With all the grief the parents and community felt, they were able to celebrate his life.”
So, today, as you celebrate summer by having a barbecue or playing baseball, take time to remember those who make your freedoms possible, Tewksbury said. “And, thank God this nation has individuals like Mracek to answer the call.”
He concluded his remarks by citing President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at the time of the dedication of a national cemetery:
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
As he prepared to sit down, the 300 or so in the American Legion hall rose to their feet to give Col. Tewksbury a standing ovation.
The talk was followed by about 10 members of the Endless Mountains Barbershop Chorus dressed in red blaazers singing, “This is My Country,” with the crowd invited to chime in.
Bill Eberhardt then thanked the Beaver Meadows Walkers and friends for opening the day’s ceremonies at Black Walnut, and he turned to Legion Commander Larry Overfield for his selfless service to the Legion.
Eberhardt spoke about patriotism and quoted Adlai Stevenson III who noted that patriotism was “not out of a burst of emotion, but a steady devotion of a lifetime.”
He said it was a fitting reminder of the late Don James, and he introduced Crystal Hons who presented the James’ Lighthouse Award to Elston Mowry, who served in the U.S. Naval Reserve in World War II and has been a lifelong farmer.
She called Mowry, “A man of fine character and a giving heart.”
Mowry responded by saying, “I’d like to thank the Lord for this day and for the veterans who have gone before.”
The Barbershoopers concluded with the the spiritual, “Standing in the Need of Prayer.”