Five to receive Legion of Honor

Five people will be honored with the Chapel of Four Chaplains, Legion of Honor Award, by Veteran Community Initiatives Inc. of Johnstown.

The honorees are Eletha “Susie” Burgoon of Ashville, Marty Kuhar of Jackson Township, Dick Mayer and Jack Babich, both of Johnstown, and Joe Dona of Richland Township.

The Legion of Honor Award program recognizes and honors outstanding members of society whose lives model the giving spirit and unconditional service to community, nation and humanity without regard to race, religion or creed, according to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation’s website. The Legion of Honor Award is presented to “Individuals who perform acts of selfless service in their local community.”

Honorees are:

— Eletha “Susie” Burgoon will be honored posthumously. Burgoon completed her time in the military as a nurse as a 1st Lieutenant, treating severely injured soldiers during World War II. She was one of the original organizers of the Ashville Ambulance Association, overseeing the operation of emergency ambulance services such as training, cleaning, stocking supplies and ambulance runs 24/7.

— Marty Kuhar has been an active veteran leader in the Laurel Highlands since his retirement in 1997 from the U.S. Army as a colonel after 28 years of service. He will be honored for his advocacy for veterans, particularly in areas of employment and homelessness. Kuhar dedicated his time to more than a dozen local veteran and military organizations and founded the Cambria Military Hall of Fame.

— Dick Mayer is a U.S. Army Veteran who served during the Korean War, and the retired publisher of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat newspaper. He is honored for his work founding the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies and the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy, and as a facilitator in the building of the National Park at the South Fork Dam.

— Jack Babich completed a 30-year U.S. Navy, Iraqi veteran, career in 2011, retiring as Commanding Officer of the Defense Contract Management Agency Aero Systems. He is now a senior vice president and chief human relations officer at AmeriServ Financial Inc. Babich is honored for his work with numerous nonprofits and community organizations, including Veterans Memorial Monument Committee, Johnstown Police fundraising and the UPMC Health Network Board.

— Joe Dona is a 98-year-old Navy veteran of World War II. Dona is honored for his local community work with veterans, including the renaming of a street and thoroughfare home to Kiwanis Park in Richland to Purple Heart Drive. Dona works closely with VFW, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Catholic War Veterans, VCI and other veteran groups. He also regularly speaks on senior veterans issues, WWII and Korea.

This year’s honorees were selected by a committee of nine previous Legion of Honor recipients. They will officially be inducted at VCI’s Biennial Chapel of Four Chaplains Ceremony & Recognition Dinner on Oct. 12.

The foundation was created in honor of four Army chaplains who perished together in 1943 during World War II, while attempting to comfort troops aboard a transport ship as it sank. The foundation’s mission is to tell the story of the “Four Chaplains” to promote Interfaith Cooperation and Selfless Service in individuals and organizations.


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