At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 2014, a crowd of local residents paid their respects on Veterans Day during a ceremony in front of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.
For one veteran, the event was an opportunity to share and to heal.
Marine Everette Craig, a decorated Vietnam veteran, addressed the crowd during the ceremony. He had written something, but decided on something else after speaking the day before to Bill Edmiston, a World War II veteran from Bellefonte.
“I had this whole speech written out and after I talked to him, something came over me and I put it aside,” Craig said. “I want to tell my story.”
The day before, he visited Edmiston, 93, in the hospital. Craig recounted Edmiston’s service. The older man had been shot down in a bomber over Europe and taken prisoner. He never talked about his time as a POW, Craig said, and he asked him why he never opened up.
Some memories were too bad to bring up, Edmiston told him.
When speaking of his own time in uniform, Craig said he felt guilty. He was a machine gunner at first, Craig said, and eventually was chosen to be an infantry squad leader. Some of his men were killed, despite his best efforts, Craig said. During an especially bloody encounter, Craig himself was wounded by a grenade, and he lost seven men and an interpreter.
He blamed himself for their deaths.
His voice quivered with emotion at times while remembering the men he fought alongside. At the end, Craig scanned the crowd and acknowledged the servicemen and women in the crowd and asked them to inquire about their service.
“It might put an end to their misery and you might learn something too,” he said.
It was only the second time he had told that tale, Craig said. The day before, he told Edmiston. It was “overwhelming” to finally get it out, he said.
Members of local service organizations carried a wreath and placed it at the war memorial on the courthouse lawn as members of the Penns Valley Area High School marching band played taps. The band also played the national anthem, “Stars and Stripes Forever” and other patriotic songs during the memorial.
Many in attendance wore caps or shirts that indicated prior military service.
Joe Johnstonbaugh, of Port Matilda, was among them, wearing an Army hat. He was there with his daughter, Amy Frontz, of Bellefonte, and grandchildren Drew, 15, and Kayle, 10.
Johnstonbaugh spent 10 years in the National Guard and did a stint on active duty from 1957 to 1959. He has been to the ceremony every year since he retired in 1995.
Frontz has taken her children to the courthouse on Veterans Day since they were born, she said. It’s been important to bring them so they can learn about what veterans have done for the country and to honor them, she said.
A Veterans Day ceremony of some kind has taken place in Bellefonte since as early as 1919, when the holiday was called Armistice Day, to recognize the end of World War I, master of ceremonies Frank Clemson said.