Memorial Day in York: 'Freedom is not free'

Junior Gonzalez

Locals gathered at memorial sites and parade routes across York County on Monday to honor fallen soldiers as part of Memorial Day, which one local politician called a day to be “meaningful, thoughtful and thankful.”

In York City, local veterans, politicians and community residents gathered at Veterans Memorial Park, where York County Veterans Affairs Director Terry Gendron spoke about the memorial's founding nearly 55 years ago.

“This monument tenders honor to each dedicated, unique, irreplaceable personality who went out from this community to serve to spare those of us who are the great beneficiaries of their sacrifice to live ever more fruitful lives,” Gendron said.

Attendants of the event included Gendron, York City Mayor Kim Bracey, York City Council President Michael Helfrich, York County President Commissioner Susan Byrnes, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry R-Dillsburg, and state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans D-York City.

At the ceremony, Byrnes announced a proclamation on behalf of the York County Board of Commissioners to mark Memorial Day in York County. She said the care and support for veterans is “a No. 1 priority for all York countians” and called on locals to be “ever mindful of the total sacrifice that was given freely by our nation’s military men and women.”

Perry delivered the main address at the event, telling onlookers that he wanted to tell them something that he recently experienced.

“I said, ‘Have a happy Memorial Day,’ and as I said it, I knew that’s not something you say,” he said. “That’s something you should never say.” The audience of about 100 applauded.

“It’s easy to get caught up into all the holidays, but it’s not just another holiday,” Perry said. “We’ve got to think about that.”

Before he was married and had children, the Iraq War veteran and brigadier general in the Pennsylvania National guard said he spent his Memorial Days by himself, “just mowing the lawn” and thinking about what Memorial Day was about, and he revealed his conclusions to those in attendance.

“It’s about the choices that we have,” he said. “Freedom is not free.”

Perry concluded his remarks by thanking attendants and wishing them a "meaningful, thoughtful (and) thankful" Memorial Day.

Local vets: Many of those in attendance were veterans from wars past and present, and among them was a veteran who served under Gen. George Patton in World War II.

Robert Bush, 99, kept repeating “I’m glad I came” to the many veterans who approached him to thank him and get photos with him. He enlisted in 1942 at age 24, and 75 years after his enlistment, he still urges men to enlist into the army.

Robert Bush, 99 of West Manchester Township, is recognized during the the annual York County Memorial Day service at Veterans Memorial Park, Sunday, May 29, 2017.  Bush, who served in the Army under General Patton from 1942-1946, will turn 100 in September. John A. Pavoncello photo

“We all had a number then,” Bush said of the draft, but he enlisted before he formally received a letter about conscription.

“I beat the draft by 12 hours,” he said.

Bush said Memorial Day was a day of rest for those lost, and he appeared to echo some of Perry’s remarks.

“I never celebrated anything,” he said. “My wife and I, we never went out to have fun on Memorial Day.”

"I know several men that didn't make it back," said Vietnam veteran Otto Sexton. He said he has attended the Memorial Park ceremony for the past 15 years and believes the ceremony reinforces the freedoms we have that many around the world do not have.

"Freedom, freedom of speech, just freedom in general," Sexton said. "We just don't know how important that is."

Richard Leonard, left of York, and Ron Etheridge, or Dover Township, from VFW Post #556 talk with fellow veterans John Stambaugh, 96 of West Manchester Township who served in WWII and Korea, and Robert Bush, 99, who served under General Patton during WWII before the annual York County Memorial Day service at Veterans Memorial Park, Sunday, May 29, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Wrightsville parade: In Wrightsville, a parade brought out locals to cheer on the marching bands, police and pipers that marked the 15-minute parade.

Wrightsville native Gina Frey said she was glad that the ceremony took place after last year’s parade unexpectedly didn’t occur.

Joe Taney, second vice commander of the American Legion Post 469, which handles the orchestration of the parade, said the event was scrapped last year due to confusion by newly elected officers over the jurisdiction of the parade.

“They assumed the borough assembled the parade,” he said, and since the officers were elected two months before the parade, they decided to postpone it until this year.

After the mix-up last year, Taney said he is glad the ceremony came back strong this year.

“Based on feedback we got, it looks like everything went well,” he said.

Taney said he looks forward to creating a bigger and better Memorial Day parade next year.

“It’s great to recognize fallen soldiers,” Frey said. She said she was told war stories from her uncle who served in World War II and grew to value the sacrifice that was made.

She said she also remembers the difficult reception many veterans received during the Vietnam War when she was younger and said that alone should keep the parade going on in Wrightsville.

“Even if it was just one little band (marching), we’d hold the parade,” Frey said. “That’s the kind of town we are.”