Living History Day kicks off 100th Birthday Celebration of Zerbe Sister's Mansion in Narvon

Submitted photos by The Village at Woodland Heights Maryann Lang and daughter Sarah pose as women from the Revolutionary War era.
Submitted photos by The Village at Woodland Heights Olive Higginson, Phil and Donna Silbaugh and Janet Brinker share stories from Civil War times.

Woodland Heights Retirement Community and the Zerbe Sisters Nursing Home at 2499 Zerbe Rd., Narvon celebrated the 100th Birthday of the founding of the Zerbe Sisters Nursing care to the community at the original Mansion site with a theme of ‘Living History Day.”

The event celebrated and offered a tribute to the Mansion, honoring those who have served our country.

Displays of U.S. Military equipment and paraphernalia from as far back as the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War II were featured on the grounds with collectors and re-enactors stationed at each display.

Morgantown American Legion Riders Post 537 greeted guests outside at a table distributing free T-shirts, wrist bands, pins, stickers, and military insignias to the public. Candy Burkhart an employee of Zerbe Sisters and treasurer of the Riders tended the stand along with other Rider volunteers.


The Big Band Sentimental Journey played the ‘old favorites’ on the front porch and the Caernarvon Fire Company Ladies’ Auxillary had food available for purchase.

The day started at 11 a.m. in the Mansion‘s main hall filled to capacity with quests.

“Welcome to our second annual Living History Day, we are privileged to have Harry Heater here on this beautiful day. He is a veteran of three wars and will share his stories and poems,” said Cathy Close, Activity Director for Independent Living.

Harry James Heater, aka “Little Jimmy” from Spring City, took his place at the podium as the crowd cheered him on. He had a humble yet sincere and witty demeanor, this man made the wars and his comrades come alive in the room.

“I was born in the 20s and entered the Army at 17 in 1944 and served in the military for 22 years,” he said.

His initial training as a soldier at Fort Dix later led him to train to become a Medic in the Army Transport service.

His stories were chilling as he recalled sailing the Atlantic and later the Pacific where he would deliver soldiers and pick up the wounded and the dead to be taken home, Medics were not allowed to carry weapons during WWII so his was a dangerous mission on the battlefield.

VE day May 8th, 1945 marked the end of World War II and three years later in 1948 he joined the Army 40th Infantry division becoming an Airborne Paratrooper for 18 years.

“Then came Korea where we lost a lot of men. We carried the wounded into Mash Tents where they were triaged. The doctors looked at some and said no they are too far gone, and they worked on the ones they thought they could save.

I saw choppers flying above and I wished I had some so we could save more guys. When Vietnam came I went to Washington and requested helicopters and we were issued our 1st Calvary Choppers,” he said.

He was now married with three children and as a Medivac he was shot down a few times and treated for multiple wounds back in the states.

On one transport to Nam the guys were noisy. To settle them down he said, “I want you guys to look at the man to the right of you and to the left of you. Look deep into their eyes, because half of you aren’t coming back.” That sobered the group and there was no more carrying on.

Years later a soldier came up to him and said, “You were right Sarge, half of us didn’t come back.”

Making 468 jumps with the Jumping Mustangs, when finding many of their wounded after treating them as best they could they would hide them and promise to come back; if they couldn’t get a chopper sadly they couldn’t get back in time.

One story that sticks in his mind was of a soldier he found deep in the jungle in Nam who was hit badly.

“I brought him back and the docs said he is too far gone, I put him in a trench, covered him with a raincoat, and gave him some plasma, but he was broken up really bad,” he said.

“The doc later said that guy needs an AB blood transfusion, I said I’m AB blood and I laid right next to him on a stretcher and they drew the blood from my arm right into his,” he said.

In 1959 he got a card from Carlton B. Davis from Birmingham Ala. thanking him for saving his life.

Lots of the men are on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.; he carries a list of his fallen men in his pocket and visits them every Memorial Day.

Every year the survivors have a reunion. This October it will be in Ocean City, MD. They remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice with the American flag and lighting a candle by a rifle and helmet.

A story he likes to share is this. Local American Legion Post 537 has a special parking space and a seat reserved for their oldest member ‘Sarge,’ Upon hearing that story he decided to visit the Post, park in his spot, sit in his seat and wait. In comes ‘Sarge’ disgruntled. Who took his spot? The two had a big laugh and next Harry joined the post.

Other men spoke up about their own war experiences and then the group retreated to the grounds.

Fellowship and stories were shared and then 3 p.m. call from the main dining room for the cutting of the 100th Birthday Cake by Nancy Caffrey-Schafer, President.