Despite the weather, patriotism prevailed in Monessen in 1983
Mother Nature didn't cooperate when Monessen played host to the annual Mon Valley Veterans Day parade and celebration on Friday, Nov. 11, 1983.
But the elements – sub-freezing temperatures, rain, snow and sleet – didn't dampen the solid patriotic spirit of pride, respect and gratitude that prevailed among participants and spectators.
“It was very cold and the snow was flying,” Ron Chromulak of Monessen recalled.
“It was melting for the most part, getting everyone wet and very cold, so you had to keep moving.
“There were a lot of people there, both in the parade and as observers and everyone was very enthusiastic.”
Chromulak, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, was in his first year as commander of Allison Lescanac Post 1190 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on that bone-numbing day 31 years ago. He's now chairman of the Monessen Veterans Council, which again is preparing for the city to be the center of the major Valley-wide observance on Saturday, Nov. 8.
The theme of this year's event will be “Honoring Mon Valley Heroes,” and Chromulak and others planning the parade are hoping for another overwhelming display of patriotism.
“Anyone who has never served in the military, primarily in combat, cannot fully understand the pride and comfort a Veterans Day parade can bring to some people,” Chromulak said.
The annual parade rotates yearly among Monessen, Charleroi, Donora, Monongahela and Washington. California also hosted the event for many years and veterans groups from California, Belle Vernon, Charleroi, Carroll Township, Donora, Monongahela and Washington joined the Monessen contingent in planning the 1983 observance..
In addition to VFW Post 1190, the current Monessen Veterans Council comprises Anthony Madison American Legion Post 704, Thomas McKee American Legion Post 28, the Mid Mon Valley Shipmates, and the Joseph Walker Mon Valley Chapter of the Air Force Association.
Organizers have invited veterans from throughout the region to take part and also are seeking businesses to join Trib Total Media as corporate sponsors.
“We will welcome any support,” Chromulak, a 1960 graduate of Monessen High School, said.
“Our goal is to make this year's parade and celebration one of the biggest ever in Mon Valley history.
“The veterans, men and women who served our great nation, deserve nothing less.”
Additional information is available from any member of the Veterans Council or by contacting Chromulak at 354 Balazia Ave., Monessen, PA 15062, firstname.lastname@example.org, 724-314-3188 or 412-515-7247.
Support certainly was evident in 1983 as marchers and several thousand people lining the streets of Monessen to watch the parade braved temperatures in the low 20s, harsh winds that made it seem ever colder, and a mix of rain, snow and sleet.
“I marched in worse than this,” Bob Figolah of Donora, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, told Valley Independent reporter Jeff Oliver in expressing the sentiments of veterans gathered in Monessen that day.
“We're going to press on,” Chromulak told Oliver before the line of march began near the War Memorial in the city's Eastgate section. “The weather doesn't matter; we're psyched up about this. We've been working on this for quite a while. We are really cranked up for the parade, especially the Vietnam veterans. Did you notice how many of us are here?
Reflecting recently on those 1983 thoughts, Chromulak said enthusiasm ran high because “… a lot of people wanted to forget about the war protesters of the 1970s.”
“There was still a lot of animosity at that time and we wanted to concentrate on the POW-MIA (Prisoner Of War/Missing In Action) issue,” he recalled. “All of the local World War II and Korean veterans were very supportive of the Vietnam veterans and worked really hard to make us feel welcome back home and part of the community.”
Chromulak said a group of veterans created a parade float depicting the cages that the North Vietnamese constructed to keep the prisoners in during the Vietnam War.
“They walked with that float in the parade,” he said “Everyone wanted to be part of the awareness of what actually happened in Vietnam. People were just beginning to find out how the government really let down the troops that were fighting a war by not supplying sufficient ammunition and other materials and, what we felt was the worst thing, was that they lied to the troops who were over there.”
The Vietnam veterans' mobile display won first prize in the best float category in the 1983 parade. The float was dedicated to POWs and MIAs still unaccounted for and was very meaningful to those who served in the Southeast Asia war.
“We want the American public to realize there are still more than 2,100 men missing in Southeast Asia,” Joe Kallok of Donora, a Air Force veteran who saw action in Vietnam, told Oliver.
“I got shot down once (in Vietnam) and three of my buddies are still missing.”
Hank Trice Jr., a Vietnam veteran who served with the Green Berets and was a POW, came from Youngwood to march in the parade.
“The (POW) float is very close to my heart,” he said. “I want to recognize my fellow veterans and have the right to represent my country and fly the American flag. It is an honor to be with these men, to march with veterans who served in other wars.”
Mike Stefansky, a Navy veteran of World War II, agreed.
“I'm doing it (marching) out of dedication to the veterans,” he told Oliver. “I'm not worried about the weather. I have my long underwear on.”
Another World War II veteran taking part in the parade served a dual role as both a veteran and government official.
Mayor Fred P. McLuckie of Charleroi served in the Army for 4½ years and was inducted prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“It's wonderful,” he said of the parade. “This is our dedication to the veterans who are here today and to those no longer with us.
Monessen Mayor James Sepesky lauded the parade participants and spectators who turned out for the tribute.
“This is an opportunity to publicly display the appreciation of the efforts put forth by those who so capably represented this country in times of conflict,” Sepesky told Oliver. “It's an opportunity for all people to come out and openly display their feelings of appreciation for our fighting boys.”
Helen Parnelli of Monessen sat in a chair along the parade route. Bundled in winter clothes and a heavy blanket, she explained why she and so many others came to watch the parade even thought it would have been much more comfortable to sit at home and watch television.
“It's Veterans Day and we have to pay tribute to our boys who were killed fighting,” Parnelli said. “I had a brother and a son who both fought for our country in wars. They both came back. Thank God for that.”
Also highlighting the 1983 Veterans Day celebration were two programs at VFW Post 1190 on Seventh Street.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John A. Aranyos was the featured speaker at a morning ceremony originally scheduled at the Eastgate War Memorial but moved indoors.
“I believe we must keep a position of military strength to keep the peace,” Aranyos, a resident of Liberty Borough in Allegheny County, told his audience. “The critics say ‘get rid of the military and we will have peace.' That makes as much senses as saying get rid of the doctors and there will be no more illness.”
Aranyos, whose distinguished military career began in 1942 and who served as parade marshal at the Monessen event, said the U.S. “must have sufficient power to bargain to a point of détente with its enemies. Détente can only be an illusion of peace if there is no military balance.”
Chromulak told Valley Independent reporter Teresa Sokol that Aranyos was “a fitting speaker and grand marshal.” He recalled that the general was a single-engine fighter pilot in World War II and his combat tour comprised 900 hours and 82 missions over Europe.
Col. Frank Bitonti of Rostraver Township, an engineer with U.S. Steel Corp in civilian life and commander of the 2073rd U.S. Army Reserve School in Pittsburgh, was the keynote speaker at the traditional pre-parade luncheon at the VFW home.
He emphasized the importance of Army Reserve units in the Pittsburgh area, pointing to the financial impact such centers have on communities in which they are loated.
Frederic Feldman, long recognized as a great organizer, was president of the Monessen Veterans Council and general chairman of the Veterans Day programs in 1983. He also served as master of ceremonies at the indoor programs.
Among those introduced at those events were: Chromulak; Mickey Janicki, past commander of VFW Post 1190; commanders Randy Lee of Joseph H. Ford American Legion Post 691 and Angelo Leone of Thomas McKee American Legion Post 28; Socrates Loulis, escort commander and service director of Post 1190; Auxiliary presidents Charlotte Tansmore of Post 691, Gerry Elaynich of Post 28 and Beatrice Yakem of Post 1190.
Charles Gee, historian of Post 28, offered the traditional “Roll Call of The Dead” and said the weather that day was “most fitting.”
“Most of the people who died (in combat) did so in blood, mud, sweat and tears,” Gee said.
Also recognized at the luncheon were mayors McLuckie, George Saxon of Donora, John Moreschi of Monongahela, John Nipaver of Speers and Joseph Tintori of North Belle Vernon as well as other area municipal officials.
Russell Bronson of Post 691 drew praise for his “loud and clear voice” in leading the singing of “God Bless America” and “the Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the morning gathering. Bronson and Chester Artis, also of Post 691, also stirred the luncheon audience when they sang The National Anthem and other selections.
The Rev. S. Kenneth Johnson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Monessen, offered invocation and benediction.
It is the spirit of the 1983 Veterans Day celebration – and other observances of the past – that Chromulak and his Monessen Veterans Council counterparts are seeking to replicate at this year's event on Nov. 8.
In honoring all veterans – men and women who wore the uniforms of U.S. military forces with valor in times of war and peace as well as those who continue to serve today – the Monessen group needs and deserves all the support it can get.
There are countless heroes, living and dead, who deserve the respect and gratitude that Americans everywhere should – and must – offer and emphasize to them on Veterans Day and every day.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total media.