A Fitting "Tribute to the Troops"

by Cynthia Tintorri, photos by Brian Shaud
November 01, 2012

The Fallen Soldier statueNot even the aftermath of a superstorm could dampen the patriotic spirit of Northampton Community College and its Band of Brothers veterans club as they dedicated a "Tribute to the Troops" on Thursday, November 1. In fact, master of ceremonies and Band of Brothers president Brandon Ober began the program -- originally meant to be held outdoors in NCC's Susan K. Kubik Tribute Garden but moved to Lipkin Theatre -- by recognizing the important post-Hurricane Sandy mission of the National Guard, of which he is a member.

Veterans, students, staff, faculty and dignitaries, including Congressman Charlie Dent and State Senator Lisa Boscola, were on hand as the first phase of what will be a Veterans Plaza was dedicated. It includes a large boulder excavated from the Bethlehem Campus, which forms the base for a bronze sculpture representing a fallen soldier, with boots, rifle and helmet. There is space for engraved pavers, which are available for purchase. Future phases will include benches, trees, small gardens and five granite columns paying tribute to each branch of the military. fallen soldier

After the presenting of the colors by Dieruff High School's Air Force Junior ROTC Color Guard, and a moving rendition of the National Anthem sung a capella by U.S. Marine Corps Reservist Sgt. Carl Rice '14, speakers Ashley Leeper and JenniLynn Hanitsch, both Army Reservists and Band of Brothers members, described their vision for the project. Their idea for an area at NCC to pay tribute to all troops, living and deceased was initially conceived at a deployment party hosted by the Band of Brothers for one of its members. The club has been raising funds for the project since 2009.

Congressman Dent thanked NCC "for all the College has done to help my staff in their mission to find career opportunities for returning veterans." Senator Boscola talked about the role past and current veterans have played in defending our country's freedom, including the right to vote. "You veterans are the face of heroism," she said.

NCC President Mark Erickson, the son of an Air Force veteran, said, "To all our veterans here, I want you to know how important you are to us at Northampton, and how proud we are of you." He thanked the Band of Brothers for "a great project and a beautiful memorial."

After the playing of "Taps" by Keith H Beyer of the 78th Army Band, and the Retiring of the Colors, all in attendance were invited to a luncheon sponsored by NCC's Alumni Association. History Professor Mike McGovern presented an oral history project in which three veterans associated with NCC were interviewed about their experiences in the military and at the College.

Veterans dedication

The oral history project was arranged by communication professor Donna Acerra, and produced by two of her students, Sharia Shaleen and Bryon Garrison, as a service learning project. In the still photo and audio presentation, Dr. McGovern interviews George Whitehouse, Frank Buchvalt, and Dennis Feeley.

Whitehouse, a staff sergeant in the Army Air Corps during World War II and NCC faculty member from 1967 to 1983, speaks in the presentation of his reasons for joining the army and how the G.I. bill led him to pursue a college degree. He also talks about how, as a faculty member during the tumultuous Viet Nam years, veterans attending NCC didn't want to talk about their service because of the sentiment on campus.

Buchvalt, a specialist in the Army who served in Viet Nam and a trustee and project manager for NCC from 2008 to 2012, echoes Whitehouse's thoughts. "When I returned, the mindset was very anti-military." He decided, he says, to do as those who returned from World War II had done: "I hung up my uniform, and looked at my service as an experience." He advises current veterans to do the same. "It's an experience, and there's a lot more coming - don't continue to relive it."

Dennis Feeley '73, a second class petty officer in the Navy during Viet Nam, describes his shock at being greeted by angry protesters when he was discharged. "I had just spent four years doing what I thought was the right thing to do." He came to NCC and found a "brotherhood of hundreds of other veterans," with whom he started a veterans club and an outreach program. Dozens of them organized a "National Day of Mourning" peaceful demonstration in 1971, to pay tribute and show respect for those who had served, and especially those who had given their lives.

After the presentation, Band of Brothers club advisor Diana Holva, who has worked in NCC's Veteran Affairs office for 23 years, spoke of how much she has learned from the veterans she has assisted. "As Veterans Day approaches, let us all take time to recognize those who have served and those who continue to serve," Holva said.