BIG RUN — The featured speaker for the Big Run Memorial Day service at Fairview Cemetery had a very personal experience when it comes to remembering those who lost their lives while fighting to protect freedom around the world.
"I have spent the majority of my life with young people," said Ron Ploucha, a retired math teacher, member of the Inner Circle and the Elks.
Ploucha said he grew up in the 1950s and early 60s.
"If you wonder what life was like back then, just watch a few episodes of ‘Leave It To Beaver,’" he said. "Life was simple and carefree, or so I thought."
Ploucha said all that changed one January day in 1967.
"I was only a few months away from my high school graduation. I will never forget arriving home that day and seeing the look on my Mom's face," he said. "She told me that news had spread through our small rural community that my friend Tommy had been killed in Vietnam."
Ploucha said he was stunned, not knowing what to say or do.
"I was no stranger to death, but this was different, because this was not supposed to happen," Ploucha said, adding that even though Tommy was several years older than him, he had been a close childhood friend for as long as he could remember.
"We had grown up in the same small town not far from Punxsutawney," he said. "My older brother and Tommy were classmates, so he spent lots of time at my house, and I used to tag along with them quite often; he was my friend, too."
Ploucha said during the summer, they played a lot of sandlot baseball together, and it was always fun to be on Tommy's team.
When he graduated from high school, Tommy decided that he wanted to join the military, so he became a United States Marine, Ploucha said.
"When the terrible news arrived that day, all I could think of was the devastation being experienced by Tommy's family and especially his fiancee," Ploucha said, adding that in the next few years that followed that awful day, he would experience those same feelings and emotions five more times.
So, exactly what is Memorial Day? Ploucha asked.
"It's the day I think about the supreme sacrifice made by my friends and classmates," he said. "It's the day that I think of the pain and sorrow carried by their moms, dads, brothers and sisters for the rest of their lives.
"Today and every day, it is our duty as American citizens to honor all of our fallen heros who answered the call to carry the message of freedom and democracy around the world and gave their lives defending it," Ploucha said. "And today, we let them know that they will never be forgotten."
The crowd honored Tommy Lewis Craft, Richard Lorraine Kuntz, James Leroy Wise Jr., Bernard Malcolm Himes, James Albert Wingert, Edward John Porada and Scott Robert Smith.
Also participating in the Big Run Memorial day program were the Big Run Boy Scouts Troop No. 250, Reynoldsville Theater Group with special music, Big Run Free Militia and Sarah Kerr, who played “Taps.”