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BARRY SEARLE

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STAFF PHOTO/ROBERT BAKER A balloon launch from the Art Keefer Little League ballfield remembers the Pennsylvanians who have died since Sept. 1, 2001.

Tunkhannock pulled out all of the stops to honor sacrifice and military service on Monday with a parade as people lined Tioga Street and waved flags, heard a rowsing speech on the courthouse lawn and participated in a balloon release at the Little League ballfields.

Retired Army Col. Barry Searle warned several hundred people assembled on the courthouse lawn not to become complacent about the freedoms we all enjoy.

Searle, who once served as officer-in-charge of a team at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., that received more than 10,000 wounded veterans.

He said the team’s responsibility was “to be a friendly face and a trusted fellow combat soldier giving support to those returning wounded and dying getting off an airplane.”

“Every member of that team was changed by what we saw during the tour,” he said.

Searle added that he fears “The country we fought for is sadly slipping away. The idea of sacrifice, duty and honoring country is being replaced today by me, me, me.”

He looked the crowd over and said that everyone in the audience has friends and family who served this great country. “You know, they sacrificed their tomorrows to give us our todays,” he said. “We cannot let the public - the drive through population with a 5-minute attention span forget our wounded and dead.”

Searle said that as people sit at home enjoying their patriotic music, they need to understand life is more than just about enjoyment.

He acknowledged that as individuals come home from tours of duty it is not much of a challenge to “thank them for their service. Yes, we should do that, but placing a wreath by a monument, and playing Taps is moving, but sterile. Think about those who came back suffering and continuing to suffer. Do we remember them?”

“Yes, we have a responsibility to take the initiative on Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the Fourth of July or any day for that matter to pause and reflect,” he said. “But be careful not to trivialize our past into thinking somehow the country will always be a better place.”

He acknowledged it will take continual service by people willing to step up to do that.

“Don’t forget that. Our people are spoiled by living in the greatest nation on earth into complaining about what they don’t have. When you hear somebody at work talk about the heat and humidity in your office, tell them about the friend or buddy who nearly died from frost bite in Korea.”

“Let’s move over from hollow phrases and really do something,” he admonished the crowd.

“Vote. Demand of your officials honest government. Demand of the Veterans Administration that bureaucratic business as usual for those who willingly served should never be horrible. It’s up to all of us to step up.”

With his speech’s conclusion, an honor guard led by retired Air Force Col. Stacy Huber from the Dennis Strong American Legion Post gave a gun salute, and the high school band performed ‘Taps.’

The time for remembering, however, did not stop there.

Crowds of people moved to the Little League ballfield near Sunnyside Cemetery to take part in a balloon launch that has been a part of Memorial Day in Tunkhannock for the past six years.

Red, White, and Blue helium-filled balloons were let go in the outfield of Art Keefer Field with one balloon for every Pennsylvania soldier or sailor to have lost his or her life in Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.

Special guests on hand included Holly McBroom, the widow of Sgt. Jacob McBroom who never came home. She thanked Kendra Lynn for annually remembering her husband and so many like him by putting together the remembrance ceremony after Lynn lost her own brother - Staff Sgt. Steven Tudor, a 1989 Dunmore grad- back in 2007.

Another special guest was Cory Etchberger, son of Medal of Honor Winner Richard Etchberger, who died in Southeast Asia in 1968. The younger Etchberger donated a flag to be flown over the ball park and then served as a guest speaker prior to the balloon release telling people to “never forget.”

This year the balloons were augmented by some green and gold balloons to remember Bryce Brown, a former Tunkhannock Area High School baseball player, who at age 18 died in late April from a pulmonary embolism while away at college.

It was another fitting way to remember.