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‘This is where we need to be’

Armed Forces Day 2008: Hundreds turn out for ceremony at Van Zandt VA Medical Center

May 18, 2008
By Walt Frank,
Roger Kritzer knew where he had to spend his Saturday afternoon.

Kritzer and his wife, Sharon, of Irvona joined hundreds on the grounds of the Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona to celebrate Armed Forces Day 2008.

The Kritzers’ son, Army Pfc. Bradley G. Kritzer, was killed in Iraq May 5, 2004, when an explosive detonated under his vehicle.

“This is where we need to be. This is the place to be to honor our soldiers,” Roger Kritzer said. “I am privileged to be here; it is just like family. People here have treated us with respect, and we appreciate that.”

Gary Greene, an Army veteran and resident of the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home, was looking for the name of his childhood friend Army Spc. Nathan C. Matthews on “The Wall That Heals,” which lists the names of those killed in the Vietnam War.

Greene and Matthews grew up together in West Chester.

“I remember the day he left for Vietnam. He died from small-arms fire in 1971; he only had 30 days left,” Greene said. “I feel the energy off the wall; the guys died for us.”

Armed Forces Day, which recognizes service members stationed throughout the world, is an important day to Vietnam veterans, said John Foy, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 967.

“We have so many veterans on that wall; we feel we owe a lot to them,” he said. “There are so many people today who don’t know anything about Vietnam or Korea and ask what does ‘POW/MIA’ mean.”

Saturday’s program featured patriotic music performed by various local artists.

Keynote speaker Col. Christine A. Stark, adviser to the commandant of the U.S. Army War College at the Carlisle barracks, offered sympathy to those who had lost loved ones in various conflicts.

Stark said because of America’s efforts, great progress is being made in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“People in both countries are enjoying freedoms many had long forgotten or never enjoyed,” Stark said. “Our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and husbands and wives have helped to make that possible.”

Stark told the crowd “if you enjoy your freedom, thank a veteran.”

“Freedom comes at a cost, when our freedom is threatened we take action. If we let our guard down we can be vulnerable. Since 911 we are a nation united and can not be threatened into submission,” Stark said. “Today is a day to honor the sacrifices they (veterans) made on behalf of this country, to recognize all of those who served.”

Charles Becker, medical center associate director, agreed that Armed Forces Day is a special day.

“Today we are recognizing a special group of Americans, our men and women in uniform. Because of their selflessness and loyalty we are able to live in a free and democratic country,” Becker said. “We celebrate and honor them for their courage today.”

The Armed Forces Day observance also included displays of vintage military vehicles and military memorabilia and area veterans and civic groups provided information concerning their organizations.

The medical center staff, for the first time, presented “Welcome Home,” an effort to provide information to all veterans with a special emphasis on benefits available to veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Dave Petrak, program manager.

Article Photos

Cloyd Harris of Altoona, an Army veteran of the European Theater during World War II, salutes while the national anthem is played during Armed Forces Day ceremonies Saturday at the Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona. (Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)

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