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Vet: Freedom best tribute to fallen

May 30, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

HALFWAY -- Tony Pruchniewski knows the greatest tribute to fallen troops isn't found in speeches or monuments.

Instead, that tribute exists every day across the United States, he said, in something called freedom.

That's why Pruchniewski is disappointed when Memorial Day ceremonies are sparsely attended by the public.

"If people really thought about it, they would be there," he said. "Some countries have partial freedom, others have no freedom at all. We are blessed with the greatest freedom on earth, thanks to the courage and sacrifices of our veterans."

Pruchniewski is president of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County, which each year organizes a Memorial Day service at Martin L. "Marty" Snook Memorial Park in Halfway.

On Saturday morning, about 50 veterans, family members and local officials gathered at the park's Veterans Memorial for a wreath-laying ceremony honoring all branches of the U.S. military.

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Pruchniewski said the ceremony is always held on the official observance of the holiday, first marked in 1868.

"May 30th is Memorial Day," he said. "Why bounce it around?"

The keynote speaker was Ronald Bowers, former Washington County Commissioner and a retired U.S. Army Reserve officer.

"What is a hero?" Bowers asked. "If our fallen heroes could speak, what would he or she say? Do you have to be from a certain political party to be patriotic? Do you have to serve in the military? We all have our opinions. But what we should always remember is that many veterans sacrificed their lives so we can have an opinion."

Julianna Albowicz, who was representing U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., read a letter from the senator thanking Maryland's veterans for their service.

Among those attending the ceremony was Chewy Wilhelm of Hagerstown, an Army veteran who received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam.

"I know war firsthand," he said. "I know how terrible it is and the sacrifices soldiers and their families have to make. So it bothers me. It makes me sad that more people don't participate in these programs. This place should be packed."

Pruchniewski agreed.

"I would love to see the numbers swell," he said. "But it's tough. Many of our veterans and their dependents are getting older and have a difficult time getting to events like this. Still, it's important for others to show their appreciation. That's why we do this."

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