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Feeling the pride of patriotism

| Wednesday, May 2, 2007

This year's 74th annual Americanism Day ceremony and parade started with an Army general revisiting his home area and a Connellsville man receiving a citizen award.

"We celebrate our freedom with this parade," said Uniontown Mayor James Sileo, who gave the welcome at the ceremony Tuesday before the parade.

Sileo, a World War II veteran, said this was the time to feel the pride of patriotism; the streets were decorated with American flags and that patriotism should be handed down to the next generation.

A few others of the greatest generation were recognized yesterday when the World War II Memorial Committee presented awards to "superb members of the community," said Joe T. Joseph, committee chairman.

One of those recipients was John "Wally" Schroyer, of Connellsville.

Schroyer is a World War II veteran and former prisoner of war.

"I'm really surprised; this is really an honor to receive this," Schroyer said.

Not only did he and the other 16 recipients receive an award and special recognition, they also participated in the parade, to which Schroyer is no stranger. He was the grand marshal for the Connellsville Bicentennial Parade last year and has watched a few Americanism Day parades in his time.

"It's always been a wonderful-looking parade," Schroyer said.

Guest speakers last night included Fayette County Commissioners Angela Zimmerlink and Vincent Vicites, American Legion Department of Pennsylvania Auxiliary President Edwina Koman, past state Rep. Larry Roberts, American Legion Post 51 Commander Loretta Imler and Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for Western Pennsylvania John Spisso, who introduced the main speaker, Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander USA Southern European Task Force and stationed in Italy.

"It's great to be home," Helmick said.

His roots stretch to the area. His father was born around Masontown. He returned home last night to let the crowd gathered at Post 51 in Uniontown hear more about America's military.

"We have the best equipment, the best training and the best leadership," Helmick said. "It's the best leadership I saw in my 31 years of service."

Helmick said that since 9/11, today's soldiers face longer hours, higher levels of confidence, longer deployments and an enemy that's smart, has no nation state and no code of conduct.

"But I assure you, they (American soldiers) are up to the task," Helmick said.

He told the crowd about two soldiers he met who changed his life.

The first was a high amputee in the leg, which means his leg was completely amputated at the hip, Helmick said. The man missed the Army so much that he called Helmick to see if he could get back into the Army.

"The soldier was let back into the Army as an E6 and has been ranked with his marksman skills in the Paralympics. He's a great soldier with a great attitude," Helmick said.

The other was a woman who graduated from Notre Dame, where she played basketball. She joined the service after 9/11 and was an MP in Iraq. A rocket-propelled grenade blew off her basketball-shooting hand on which she wore her wedding ring; her fellow soldiers went to the building where she was injured and recovered the ring, he said. "She's now a teacher in Chicago. And she loves the Army."

Helmick said that while America's fighting force is strong, its strength is maintained by the will of the American people.

"They still need your support," Helmick said. "We'll sleep under a blanket of security tonight because of those who fight. This parade is an effort to show America that we care."

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