TOWANDA­-

The keynote address speaker at the Dedication Day Ceremony for the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday urged the public to get behind the project.

Speaking at the ceremony in Towanda, Col. Richard Besley, U.S. Air Force (retired), who lives in the Columbia Cross Roads area, told the audience that everyone was present to dedicate the Memorial Park "to the men and women who have gone before us to defend our flag, our freedom, and our way of life."

"We owe it to them to do all we can to support this project," he said. "We should try to do that in any way we can."

"On this very date, April 6, in 1917, American forces joined the war in Europe, World War I, to defend it against its enemies," he continued. "We did it again in World War II, and that took us to the Pacific Theatre, as well. Today while some countries shout 'death to America,' other countries still remember the American heroes who are buried in their lands, the lands that they liberated."

Accompanied by music and prior to Besley's remarks, the ceremony began with the raising of the flags of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as the U.S. flag and the MIA/POW flag.

Appropriately, Besley touched on the subject of the flag in his remarks.

About 25 years ago, he said, the Supreme Court ruled that it's OK to "desecrate" the flag, when the justices ruled 5-4 that acts such as burning the flag are protected under the Constitution's First Amendment as the freedom of speech.

Besley said this was "hogwash" to him.

"There are dozens of ways people can express their opinions, their ideas without committing acts that deeply offend all of us. And long, wordy, legal arguments can't adequately describe the proper respect for our flag. Now, why is that? Well, it's because respect for our flag is a matter of the heart, it's not a matter of our intellect. It's a matter of the heart."

He said the flag is the Gold Star Mother's last connection to her deceased son or daughter, and the flag covers the coffins of our departed comrades before "we play the final 'Taps' for them."

"If we really want to honor our heroic dead, and if we really want to pay the debt that we all owe to them, then we should all work to protect our flag from insult and degradation, the Supreme Court notwithstanding."

"We should all get behind this memorial project," he added, referring to the Memorial Park in Towanda. "Those who lie in our cemeteries in those gallant ranks deserve our best effort, for they've done all that they can do. May God Bless them, their families, and our men and women deployed around the world today. Thank You. Amen.." He was applauded.

The ceremony marked the completion of "Phase 1" of the park's construction. The park is located at the west end of the Veterans Memorial Bridge in downtown Towanda.

According to Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park Association founder Joe Doherty, who attended the ceremony, the project has been steadily gaining ground since it began three years ago, but in the past two months fund raising efforts have slowed substantially.

"We are in a very dry period right now," Doherty said of the financial situation. "I don't know if it's tax season or the economy that caused it, but things have slowed."

The project is projected to cost just under $1 million, and so far Doherty estimates the association is about one-third of the way there.

The association needs the support of the entire county population to make the park a reality, he said, when previously interviewed by The Daily Review.

"No one has a million dollars laying around, so if the people of the county don't support this operation, the park will never get built," Doherty said.

Mike Powers, who is the Troy Mayor and commander of the Troy American Legion Post 49, said he was "so proud and honored" to be a part of the ceremony as emcee. He urged people to say thank you to a veteran, and offered a symbolic "welcome home" to Vietnam veterans, which drew applause.

Jay Cory, who dressed as Ben Franklin and shared some information about the historical figure, offered respectful words for the veterans, saying "they ask nothing of us, but we expect everything of them." He predicted that the vacant lot that will be the park will be transformed into one of downtown Towanda's "most important features" and would be a tribute to those who fought for our country. He said it would last for generations to come, standing the test of time.

"This park will give our community and those who pass through it a place to come honor those who have served our country," he said. He said the park is "our humble way of saying, 'thank you and we will never forget.'" Cory thanked the association, Towanda Borough, and the sponsors of the project and "of course Joe for making this memorial possible." He thanked veterans and those serving our country today. Others who spoke at the event also thanked Doherty and the association. Some of the speakers also recognized their own family members who served in the armed forces.

State Rep. Tina Pickett congratulated everyone who has been part of the project. "What an impressive look at what we expect to see in the end," she said about the work done so far on the park. She said the park is a way to let everyone know that Bradford County is "very, very proud" of those who serve our country.

The three Bradford County Commissioners, Doug McLinko, Mark Smith and Daryl Miller, also attended and spoke.

McLinko encouraged people to support the park and said it would be a source of pride for the county; Smith said the park would be "a spectacular monument for our veterans;" and Miller said "hopefully this will continue and be something that all of Bradford County can be proud of, to honor their veterans." He said it was a "great day" and the fact that ground was broken for the park is a "fitting tribute" to Doherty and his committee.

Quoting the Declaration of Independence, Miller said protecting our freedoms and liberties has not come cheaply and millions of Americans have answered the call to duty to protect these freedoms and liberties. The banners honoring veterans that have been placed in the local area, he said, represent just a few of the thousands from Bradford County who have served their country over the years. He said they deserve our most sincere gratitude.

Towanda Mayor Garrett Miller said that as a representative of Towanda Borough, he was "so proud to have this in our town."

"It's just an honor to have this here," he said. He thanked all the "distinguished guests" and everyone else in attendance, saying they all deserved a round of applause.

"It's truly a great day to be an American," he said.

The program provided the names of all those who were scheduled to participate in the dedication. It noted that the invocation was provided by chaplain - U.S. Army (Reserve) Capt. Doug Block; the emcee was Mike Powers - Troy mayor, commander of the Troy American Legion Post 49, member of the Troy VFW Post 8675 and also representing WHGL FM Radio; the National Anthem was sung by Judy Black of KZFM Radio, the event producer; the Parade Commander was Roy Schrimp - Marine Corps League Detachment 445; and the Joint Effort Color Guard was provided by the VFW Towanda, Post 1568 with the AMVETS of Rome - Don Richardson and Joe Nolte.

In addition, the program noted the following participants and activities: U.S. flag presentation by Robert Oliver Jr. of the American Legion Post 534 Wyalusing and Oliver Crisp, Commander of the Towanda VFW Post 1568; U.S. Army flag presentation by Kathryn Field and Sgt. Randy Pruyne, U.S. Army; U.S. Navy flag presentation by Edward Austin U.S.N. - WWII, assisted by Master Chief Engineman Archie NcNett (submarine service) and BCVMPA member Nadine Furman; U.S. Air Force flag presentation, Mrs. Julia Brown and BCVMPA member Lt. Col. George J. Crowell, U.S. Army Ret.; U.S. Marine flag presentation by Commander Dave Pavey and Charles Mosier, both of the Penn-York Marine Corps League Detachment 445; U.S. Coast Guard flag presentation by commander James Robbins, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret.) and Lt. Matthew Geer, U.S. Coast Guard; MIA/POW flag raising by Joe Kopacz, Steve Bennett and Jim Robinson of the Elmira, N.Y. Post 803 Vietnam Veterans of America, Elmira, N.Y.; and individual flag raising assistance provided by members of the Local Armed Forces Recruiters Personnel.

According to the program, there was additional parade participants provided by the American Legion Post 49, the VFW Post 8675 and the American Legion Riders - all from the Troy Vets Club; aide-de-camp event assistance personnel provided by various troops of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts of America; keynote address by Colonel Richard Besley, U.S. Air Force (ret.); and Ben Franklin impersonation by Jay Cory of the Ben Franklin store, Towanda.

The program noted that a special thanks was provided to visiting speakers and dignitaries: state Rep. Tina Pickett; Bradford County Commissioners Doug McLinko, Mark Smith and Daryl Miller; Towanda Mayor Garrett Miller; Towanda Borough Council President Mark Christini; Towanda Borough Manager Tom Fairchild Jr.; and all of faithful supporters

The closing prayer was a benediction by Pastor Doug Brock.

Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: reviewtroy@thedailyreview.com.