Extended thanks: Bellefonte bridge dedication honors those who served

CDT photo

Barry Detwiler jumped off a bed truck with his American flag and gave it to a little girl dressed in red, white and blue.

He thought the small gesture would end there, but Aryanna DiGuardi, 4, would surprise him about a minute later by giving him a Tootsie Roll.

Good faith was abundant Friday at Talleyrand Park where the 43rd annual Logan Fire Company parade ended and a dedication to rename High Street Bridge in Bellefonte began. The bridge was officially renamed Veterans Bridge last week after Gov. Tom Wolf signed it into law following approval by the General Assembly.

Detwiler was one of about 70 veterans that acted as grand marshals in the parade. He thanked Aryanna for the treat and asked her to wave the flag for him.

“I saw her there without a flag, but I can’t say I was expecting anything back,” he said.

Detwiler served in the U.S.Army and U.S. Air Force as a staff sergeant. He fought in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. He came to Talleyrand Park for the bridge dedication.

“I’m so happy about this,” he said. “To be honest, I almost cried a couple times.”

He instead brought a smile to Aryanna’s face, who talked with her mother about why she gave Detwiler a piece of her candy stash.

“I was being nice, and I love the American flag,” Aryanna told her mother.

As she should. Her father, Rocco, served in the Army.

“We love having the freedom our veterans fought for,” her mother, Pearle DiGuardi, said. “It means everything to us to enjoy our freedoms everyday and to celebrate them every Fourth of July.”

Bob Schaeffer also came for the bridge dedication, 69 years after he served in the Navy during World War II.

He studied pictures from 1951 of veterans marching down West High Street on a table set up by Deb Burger, a Bellefonte resident that requested the bridge’s name change. Her brother, Air Force Maj. Lewis P. Smith II, was shot down over Laos on Memorial Day, May 30, 1968, when he was 25 years old. He is still missing in action.

Schaeffer recalled watching friends and neighbors march off to war.

“When they left they marched across the (High Street) Bridge,” he said. “I just think it’s wonderful what they’re doing to remember those veterans.”

Deb Burger’s daughter, Megan, talked with dozens of veterans like Schaeffer throughout the day at the table.

“I’ve heard so many stories from everyone that has stopped to see my grandmother’s old pictures,” Megan Burger said. “A lot of veterans have told me they went to pick out their uniform to try them on for today, and some said they don’t fit anymore.”

Army veterans Carol Clark-Baney and Pastor Calvin Miller were a part of the dedication. Clark-Baney led the ceremonial Missing Man Table and Fallen Soldier Battle Cross speeches and Miller led the invocation.

Speeches also were given by state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township before hundreds in attendance.

“Today, we rededicate this bridge as hallowed ground,” Thompson said. “Today, we commemorate this bridge to all who have answered the call to service. What a fitting tribute given that so many from our communities first answered this call to service crossing over this bridge as they boarded trains for training and deployment ... For most, crossing this bridge a second time marked a return to loved ones and families following their service. For a few they’ve yet to return.”

Benninghoff made a request of the hundreds in attendance.

“Before we sing the National Anthem I want to remind you all that we have men and women serving overseas,” Benninghoff said. “Let’s sing loud enough for them to hear.”

The attendees’ chorus echoed through the borough, and the applause Benninghoff asked for afterward for the veterans in attendance was just as loud.

Dennis Johnstonbaugh, who is hard of hearing, said he listened to every word during the dedication just fine. A Vietnam veteran who manned an M60 machine gun, Johnstonbaugh lost his legs in the war.

He was surrounded by friends and family when he revealed a plaque to commemorate the bridge’s new name.

“It’s great to remember us,” he said between hugs with family, friends and strangers. “It’s something I’ll always be proud of.”