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Tarentum honors those who sacrificed for freedom

| Sunday, May 28, 2017, 4:24 p.m.
Rebbekka Schmid, 37, and Reymere Blake, 6, of Tarentum, watch as members of the V.F.W. perform a military gun salute for fallen soldiers at the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum.
Rebbekka Schmid, 37, and Reymere Blake, 6, of Tarentum, watch as members of the V.F.W. perform a military gun salute for fallen soldiers at the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum.
Mary Mochak, 69, of Sarver, places a boutonniere upon Betsy Bianco's coat during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum.
Mary Mochak, 69, of Sarver, places a boutonniere upon Betsy Bianco's coat during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017, in Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum.
Carol Weiss, 69, of Lower Burrell, wears a program for a rain cover during the Memorial Day Observance at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
Carol Weiss, 69, of Lower Burrell, wears a program for a rain cover during the Memorial Day Observance at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
Paul Pozorski speaks about a fellow veteran that lost his life in the Vietnam War at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
Paul Pozorski speaks about a fellow veteran that lost his life in the Vietnam War at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
A flag is flown by the Highlands Marching Band as rain begins at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
A flag is flown by the Highlands Marching Band as rain begins at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
Yvonne Brown, 46, and Garrett Haloznik, 19, both of Tarentum, pose for a portait in Riverview Memorial Park during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
Yvonne Brown, 46, and Garrett Haloznik, 19, both of Tarentum, pose for a portait in Riverview Memorial Park during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
A red, white, and blue wreath floats down the Allegheny River during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017, at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum.
A red, white, and blue wreath floats down the Allegheny River during the Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, May 28, 2017, at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum.
Al Bianco, of Brackenridge, salutes as his wife, Betsy, watches a decorated wreath float down the Allegheny River during the Memorial Day Observance at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
Al Bianco, of Brackenridge, salutes as his wife, Betsy, watches a decorated wreath float down the Allegheny River during the Memorial Day Observance at Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum on Sunday, May 28, 2017.

The names engraved on the plaque represent their brothers and sisters, those who lost their lives defending the United States.

"I think sadness when I see all those names," said Carl "Moch" Mochak, a Vietnam veteran from Buffalo Township, as he recently stood near the war memorials in Riverview Memorial Park in Tarentum.

"I wonder why I was able to come back, and they weren't. I believe it's important for people to see these memorials to remind us what those individuals went through.

I think about them, and remember them, every day."

And, most especially, they have been in his thoughts this Memorial Day weekend.

Mochak was in the park again Sunday, a day after placing flags on veterans' graves in local cemeteries with others, for the borough's annual Memorial Day remembrance service dedicated to all veterans who lost their lives.

He attended with fellow veterans from the Tarentum VFW, including his friend Steve Hloznik from Frazer, and, despite brief inclement weather, a large crowd that took the rain in stride under real umbrellas and makeshift ones before the sky cleared.

"These individuals stepped up, and Memorial Day is a day to remind us of what they endured," Mochak said. "Their country called them. They answered. They left home … and they never came back.

"That is why I do what I do — to make sure they are remembered. We feel we owe it to them and their families and loved ones. They are the reason we have freedom, and we don't want people to forget."

Despite membership numbers dropping at veterans' organizations and lessening attendance at such events, Mochak and Hloznik, both Army veterans, continue their passion for honoring the military.

"It was a privilege to serve my country," Hloznik said. "We are all in this together. Veterans who lost their lives sacrificed for us, for our freedom. Unfortunately, the military is called upon and, when you are called upon, it's your duty to preserve our freedom."

The two are part of team that makes sure flags are placed near the monuments in Riverview Memorial Park honoring World War I, World War II, Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq veterans as well as prisoners of war and those still listed as missing in action.

They also partner to participate in funeral services for veterans and place flags on graves at local cemeteries.

The relationship between the Tarentum VFW and the Brackenridge American Legion, which partner to hold the Memorial Day service, remains strong because of guys like Mochak and Hloznik.

"These two organizations work so well together," said Tarentum Mayor Carl J. Magnetta Jr. "They have such a wonderful partnership. I had five uncles who served in World War II, and our family was fortunate they all came back. I remember my grandmother crying when they left."

"What bothers me is that people don't show up for Memorial Day services anymore. It's unbelievable. It's only 45 minutes to an hour of their time. Steve and Moch take this serious."

Mochak says he's not sure why fewer people come to the Memorial Day services.

"It's only a short time out of your day," said Mochak, who carries flags with him all the time to replace those that might be damaged or missing. "I am honored to do it and, as long as I can get around, I will do it. I feel I owe it to them, because I made it out and lot of my friends did not."

He and Hloznik come to recognize the ultimate sacrifice that our fellow veterans have given to this country to preserve our freedom.

"And it is always with the upmost respect that we do this. We hope that no one will ever forget why they live in such a wonderful country," Mochak said. "And we want to remind them how blessed they are that people were willing to give their lives so that all of us can live the American Dream."

This year, however, the turnout was surprising.

The large showing brought Mochak to tears.

"It's an emotional day," he said.

Carrie Fox, president of Tarentum's Recreation Board, said many people came for the plaque dedication for Army Sgt. Robert L. Adams, the first Tarentum resident to lose his life in the Vietnam War.

She said the board even ran out of programs they made for the event. They gave out 75.

"I'm assuming over 100 (people) showed up," Fox said. "We had a great turnout."

Wendy Koulouris is the daughter of Carol Czyzykiewicz Weiss, who was Adams' girlfriend. She was at the ceremony with her husband Harry, 46, and their children Elliana, 10, and Spiro, 8.

Harry Koulouris also is a veteran who served in Iraq. The two got engaged before he was deployed.

Because of what her mother endured, him not coming home was always something on the back of her mind.

"To have to go through that would be devastating," Koulouris, 41, of Lower Burrell said. "I'm glad that he came back in one piece."

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop and Madasyn Czebiniak are staff writers. Reach Harrop at 724-853-5062 or jharrop@tribweb.com. Reach Czebiniak at 724-226-4702, mczebiniak@tribweb.com, or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.

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