GREENCASTLE, Pa. — For the past 25 years or so, Ron and Doll Koons of Greencastle have claimed their spot under a shady tree at Cedar Hill Cemetery to ensure a bird’s-eye view of Greencastle’s annual Memorial Day parade and service.
The first thing they did upon arriving at the cemetery Monday was pay their respects to their relatives who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“We’re here because of them,” Doll Koons said. “And the ones that sacrificed that we could be here — it’s an honor.”
Ron Koons served in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s and their son, Matthew, served in Korea.
“We have quite a history of people in the family who were veterans,” Ron Koons said. “So being here means something (to us).”
Betty and Nick Walsnovich, also of Greencastle, tried to find a little shade under a large umbrella.
“We’ve been coming for a good many years,” Betty Walsnovich said.
Both of her late husbands served in World War II, and her son and stepson served in Vietnam. Her granddaughter served in Iraq.
She’d like to see more people attend Greencastle’s Memorial Day service.
“These fellows died for our freedom, and we should remember them,” Nick Walsnovich said.
As the parade traveled more than a mile from Allison Street to the cemetery off Pa. 16, hundreds of people stood along the parade route waving tiny American flags and saluting.
At 11 a.m., the Greencastle Memorial Day service began with a prayer of invocation by Pastor Vic Miller of Greencastle Foursquare Gospel Church.
Duane Schroyer, commander of VFW Post 6319 in Greencastle, said Memorial Day is about remembering the sacrifices of those who gave their all.
“Far too often the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy. Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That’s why they are collectively remembered on one special day — Memorial Day,” Schroyer said.
He said much is owed to the more than 6,400 Americans who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
State Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin, reconized the lives of three Franklin County soldiers who paid the ultimate price during combat in the war on terrorism.
Sgt. Edward W. Shaffer, who was raised in Mont Alto, Pa., enlisted right after 9/11.
“He was the first soldier to die in Franklin County in Iraq,” Rock said. “He was only 23 years old. He died fighting for his country.”
“Sgt. Richard Tieman lived in Waynesboro (Pa.) on Grant Street. He was serving his third tour of duty in Iraq. He was newly married,” Rock said. “He had two months to go in Iraq. He died for the freedoms we enjoy every day.”
Master Sgt. Benjamin Bitner lived in Greencastle. He was 37 years old, and was married with two sons, Rock said.
“Bitner served 18 years in the military. He loved his country and he loved serving in the military. He was deployed to Afghanistan four times. He lost his life on April 23, 2011, in Afghanistan. He died doing what he loved for the country that he loved,” Rock said.
“Because of their bravery and willingness to serve their country, and the fact that they made the ultimate sacrifice, I offered three separate pieces of legislation that have now been signed into law by our governor dedicating sections of Franklin County state roads to Sgt. Shaffer, Sgt. Tieman and Master Sgt. Bitner,” Rock said.
Rock’s House Bill 1955 dedicates Grant Street in Waynesboro to Tieman, and House Bill 1956 dedicates Pa. 16 through Greencastle in honor of Bitner.
“The signs that will accompany these road dedications are meaningful,” Rock said in a statement. “Not only do they memorialize citizens from Franklin County who volunteered to defend the freedoms we all enjoy every day, they also cause us to take a moment and think about all those who went before them, and those who will go after.”
These are the second and third bills in a series of Rock’s legislative efforts to memorialize America’s soldiers. During a Dec. 3 Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, the Mont Alto community unveiled the signs dedicating the portion of Pa. 997 within the borough as the Sgt. Edward W. Shaffer Memorial Highway.
U.S. Army Maj. Kyle Davis, a 1995 Greencastle-Antrim High School graduate, said that as a young man, Memorial Day meant the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation.
But the day is more significant to him now.
“For me it means 1st Lt. Dustin Shannon, my West Point classmate and fellow computer science major, killed in a crash during a training flight in Korea (on) Aug. 23, 2002,” Davis said.
“It means Capt. Doug DiCenzo, my cadet company commander who always greeted me with a hearty, ‘Hey, platoon sergeant!’ whenever he saw me, killed May 25, 2006, in Baghdad, Iraq, when a roadside bomb destroyed his vehicle,” he said.
In all, Davis gave five specific, personal reasons for Memorial Day, each with a name and a face.
“These men have become my Memorial Day. Today, I encourage you to think about what makes Memorial Day personal for you … whomever it is for you, remember them this Memorial Day. Recall that they made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms, and be grateful that, despite the hardships of service and a decade of war, there are still those willing to make that sacrifice,” Davis said.