Smethport American Legions hears veterans’ stories

From left are Post Commander Pat Miesowitz, president of the day; World War II veterans, Clint Williams and Richard Rounsville; Bart Barton, Air Force veteran and guest speaker; and David Tanner, a Marine Corps veteran, who has served 27 years in the New York Air National Guard. He was stationed in Turkey, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

SMETHPORT — In remarks prepared for the annual Veterans Day program Saturday at the Smethport American Legion, Bucktail Post #138, Bart Barton shared the stories of three exceptional members of our nation’s armed services.

“Horrible, ghastly and ghoulish” were some of the adjectives Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia used to describe the battlefields that he saw in Iraq,” Barton said. “At the same time, however, the army staff sergeant said it was also a place where he saw love.” Quoting Bellavia, Barton said, “You see people doing things for each other that they would never, ever do in any other circumstance — it’s a sight to see.”

It was during the height of the Iraq War in the second battle of Fallujah where Bellavia distinguished himself by rescuing an infantry squad that was pinned down by machine gun fire while the soldiers went house to house to clear the city of insurgent strongholds.

His actions on a pre-dawn mission on Nov. 10, 2004, made the former noncommissioned officer the Iraq War’s first living recipient of the nation’s highest military award for valor.

“While Bellavia’s valor is exceptional even among the extraordinary, his mindset is common within the men and women who serve our great nation.” Barton said. “His heroism is one story of the millions of living veterans.”

Barton then briefly related the story of Army Private First Class Monica Lin Brown, a combat medic assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division when she was deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan.

According to her citation for earning the Silver Star — just the second woman to do so since World War II — “On April 25, 2007, after a roadside bomb tore through her convoy, and after the explosion, 19-year-old Brown ran through insurgent gunfire and used her body to shield her wounded comrades while mortars fell less than 100 yards away.”

Barton commented that “comradery,” “warrior ethos” and “esprit de corps” are words that we can use to describe what it means to be a veteran of the nation’s military. “Add to this list, the word community,” he said. “We often see ourselves in each other.”

As an example, Barton recalled an incident of news getting out that a Vietnam War veteran had no living relatives to attend his funeral, and the veteran community was there.

“Friends of Wayne Wilson put out a call for people to come to his burial service at the Silverbrook Cemetery in Niles, Michigan, and expected only a handful of people to attend, “ he said. “They underestimated the power of The American Legion. Three thousand people showed up to pay their respects.”

Barton requested those in attendance at the dinner to find someone there and ask them to tell their story. “Every single woman and man who has raised their right hand and pledged to give their life for their country, if needed to do so for a reason. Ask them why.”

In closing, Barton quoted Bellavia, who said, “All throughout our history, we have had people that have disented, that have disagreed, and we’ve found ways to put everything aside and focus on what’s best for this nation, what’s best for mission success.”

Post Commander Pat Miesowitz and Barton provided updates on the post and the Bucktail Club, respectively. According to Barton, the club has donated about $18,000 to community organizations.

Miesowitz also introduced the post officers and past commanders. Current officers are Courtney Cole, senior vice-commander; “Bud” Abbey, second vice-commander; Reid Mattison, treasurer; John Gobel, judge advocate, Barton, adjutant; Abbey, memorial team. Miesowitz is service officer.

Marcia Jordan, representing the legion auxiliary, mentioned the group’s activities that included a float in the national American Legion’s 100th anniversary parade this summer in Smethport and activities for veterans at area nursing homes.

Gerrry Ford spoke for the McKean County Chapter of the American Legion Riders. Since the group’s charter was granted in 2005, this chapter has escorted the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall to Smethport, helped McKean to become the state’s first Purple Heart County, maintains two area cemeteries and presented patriotic programs to schools about the care and significance of the American flag.

Todd Wichen reported on the activities of the Sons of the American Legion.

Veterans were recognized from the following wars and conflicts: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Perrsian Gulf, Afghanistan/Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Iraq War, as well as those who served in peacetime.

Deceased members Mel Bauer, Vincent Bizarro, Al Billitier and Ray Deegan were honored during the Post Everlasting Ceremony conducted by Miesowitz, Barton and Chaplain Seth Digel.

Digel conducted the POW/MIA service.

Honorary guests and their years of membership were Bizzaro, 75 years; Fred Hungiville and Herbert A. Russell, each 50 years.