Medal of Honor ceremony stirs emotions

Editor’s note: Rita (Lehman) Novak graduated from Central High School in 1962. After her schooling, she raised her family in Windber. Last week, she attended the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House recognizing her son-in-law, Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, who died in action in 2004. Chapman was married to Novak’s daughter, Valerie. Following is Novak’s description of the experience, as told to the Mirror’s Neil Rudel.

We were excited to be there and glad John was getting the respect that he deserved.

It was a very moving ceremony. I was happy and sad at the same time.

It was bringing back emotions, and it’s hard to put your feelings into words.

My daughter, Valerie, met President Trump. He came into the ceremony and had pictures taken with her. We were within about 10 feet, but we didn’t meet him.

Who would have thought I’d be in the White House with the president of the United States?

It was unreal. There were 14 of us. All four of our kids and their kids, plus my husband, James.

We we were treated like royalty. The Combat Controller Association — that’s what John was — and their organization put our whole family up in the hotel for the time that we were there — five days and four nights. They gave us anything that we needed and bent over backward for us. They’re the greatest people.

John was from Connect­icut. He was introduced to Valerie by a Windber boy who brought John home one weekend from the service. They met, and it went from there.

John was proud to be American and serve his country, but he never told us what he did. He was a husband and a father. When he was home, it was family time.

He and Valerie had two daughters. Valerie and John were living in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when John was killed. Afterward, she wanted to make a new life, and she knew people in Florida. That’s where she’s been ever since.

But she also had more tragedy. She remarried (Ken Nessel), but her second husband was killed in a motorcycle accident three years ago. She’s had it pretty rough. They were married seven years, and he was killed in a motorcycle accident in Hurlburt Field in Florida.

Valerie’s very strong — stronger than I would be.

Two tragic deaths made last week very emotional, but we were very humbled and glad to be there.