With soldier songs, solemn moments and salutes, Memorial Day was marked Monday in dozens of communities across the region.
For Ebensburg's Joe Lesniak, 71, it's a proud moment, although a reminder of his father, who lost his life overseas during World War II.
"It always makes me think of the last time I saw him. He was leaving for war," said Lesniak, himself an Army veteran who served in Vietnam.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
World War II U.S. Army veterans Cloyd Harris (left) and Jack Chilcote, both of Altoona, lay a wreath Monday during the Memorial Day program at the Veterans Mall on 11th Avenue. For more photos, go to cu.altoona mirror.com and click on the We CU tab.
Lesniak stood among a line of Ebensburg-area veterans Monday morning, honored for their service while saluting fellow soldiers who gave their lives alongside them.
Under blue skies and with flags waving, hundreds of local residents watched as veterans, high school marching band members, Little Leaguers and volunteer firefighters marched toward Memorial Park in Ebensburg to pay tribute - much like other events across the region.
In Logan Township, crowds gathered to pay tribute to their war fallen, while California sculptor Paula Slater unveiled her tribute: "The Ascent of Heroism," a monument depicting the likenesses of veterans buried in Grandview Cemetery from seven U.S. wars, from the Revolutionary to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The statue is one-of-a-kind, for sure," said Peter Starr, president of the U.S. Navy League, who spoke at the event. "A lot of monuments depict nameless people, but five of the soldiers on this statue have the facial features of individuals who were laid to rest here. I think it really meant something ... to a lot of the people who saw it."
Altoona native Mike Hurm, through the Hurm Family Trust, paid for the monument, which cost nearly $80,000, event organizers said.
In Ebensburg, bugle players from Central Cambria's band played Taps. W. Robert Paul Memorial Soloist Award winner Kurt Kretchman, a high school senior, belted out "Sleep, Soldier Boy" and veterans placed wreaths to honor the fallen.
"Today, we honor all of those who have died," said Holy Name Catholic Church Monsignor Arnold Gaus, while a line of young veterans stood tall behind him.
Navy veteran Harry Graham, a trustee and former commander for Ebensburg VFW Post 4963, which organized the event alongside Ebensburg American Legion Post 363, told the crowd to remember that America still is fighting in two wars: Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We stand behind our troops," Graham said, drawing cheers. "United we stand, divided we fall."
Clifton Boland, a 78-year-old Korean War veteran, and a handful of other veterans then lifted their rifles and fired the day's final salute.
Minutes earlier, Boland and Lesniak noted how quickly Memorial Days come and go, but they seemed confident future ones will be in good hands.
On the sidewalk behind them, young children clutched flags and watched as veterans passed.
"It's so important to see them here," said Boland. "This will be their [country] ... one day. It means so much because they're the upcoming generation."
Mirror Staff Writer David Hurst is at 946-7457.