Sunday, May 28 was a perfect day for celebrating, and that's what Bally residents did.

By By:Martha J. Gehringer

By Martha J. Gehringer

Times Writer

The sky was a deep blue with large white clouds and a blazing sun.

Sunday, May 28 was a perfect day for celebrating, and that's what Bally residents did.

On the eve of Memorial Day, they celebrated their war veterans by unveiling the recreated Roll of Honor at the Bally Community Park.

They celebrated by laughing and talking with old friends who had moved away, but the emotional day was really about celebrating the 10 surviving World War II veterans listed on Bally's original Roll of Honor as the borough's new memorial on Chestnut Street was unveiled during an afternoon ceremony.

Officials estimated 400 people attended the hour-long event.

Completed in 1943, the original Roll of Honor listed the names of the 51 men and women who lived within the borough's limits and served in World War II, according to Bally Borough Manager Toni Hemerka. It originally stood on Main Street, outside the old borough hall.

The goal of the original Roll of Honor was to remind residents of the men and women serving in the war. But during the 1960s, the memorial deteriorated and was removed.

Event emcee James Reichart said the new Roll of Honor was created with gratitude and affection by a selfless group of people who came together as the Roll of Honor committee.

"We will never truly know what they experienced throughout their military service, but we can never forget them and their sacrifices," Reichart said of the World War II veterans. "They asked for little in return for the sacrifices they made during their service to our country. They only wanted to return to the lives they put on hold - return to family, friends, wives, girlfriends, warm food, baseball and a safe bed."

By the end of the day, many characteristically stoic veterans were smiling and teary-eyed. Some members of the audience sobbed quietly.

Reichart read brief biographies of the surviving World War II veterans listed on the original Roll of Honor, noting highlights of their military careers. They are Herman Adam, Army; Donald Bauman, Army Air Corp; Gerald Cleary, Army Air Corp; Paul Kelsch, Army; Norbert Mutter, Navy; James Rohrbach, Navy; Paul Weller, Army; Frank Weller, Navy; Joseph Witman, Army Air Corp; and Irvin Witman, Army Air Corp.

Reichart also noted that the borough's sole WAVE, Vera Grill, worked to break the Axis Code while stationed in Washington D.C.

Bally Mayor Phillip Ferrizzi, himself a World War II veteran, opened the afternoon by reading his Mayor's Proclamation.

"The veterans left as ordinary boys and girls, they returned as extraordinary citizens," Ferrizzi said. "Those who served showed that uncommon valor can be a common thing."

Chaplain Edward Coyle, member of the 154th Quartermaster Battalion and pastor of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Bally, offered a blessing on veterans and active soldiers as well as a prayer for peace.

Roll of Honor committee member Bill Blackwell thanked everyone for supporting the memorial by purchasing bricks. "This has been a deeply personal journey for everyone involved as we learned more about our neighbors and families," he said.

Blackwell credited committee members and veterans Donnie Conrad, Pete Fronheiser and Joe Nichols with doing most of the work in laying the bricks and building the memorial.

The memorial includes three granite slabs that honor the World War II veterans, all branches of the military, and all veterans with the phrase, "In honor of all men and women who served their country in times of war and peace."

It also includes four engraved granite benches and over 220 engraved brick pavers. The bricks and donations contributed $12,000 for the memorial's construction and maintenance. Material donations, such as flagpoles and landscaping, valued at $6,000, helped keep costs down and create a beautiful memorial, Hemerka said.

"Working on the memorial was a proud and humbling experience," Hemerka said. "Pride in the sense that something was created that will keep the veterans' memories alive, and humbling because it is a pale shadow of what they did and what our military continues to do for us daily."

Hemerka commended the community for supporting the memorial and said making the memorial the center of an annual event is being considered.

Three flags raised on Sunday were received from local politicians. Sen. Michael O'Pake (D-Berks) presented the Pennsylvania state flag to representatives of the American Legion Post 217. He also presented certificates of appreciation to the surviving veterans from the Pennsylvania Senate.

Rep. Douglas Reichley (R-Berks/Lehigh) presented the American flag to representatives from the United States Marine Corp League.

Berks County Commissioner Thomas Gajewski (D) presented a POW/MIA flag to Corporal Levi Clouser, Lyons, and Staff Sergeant James Beller, East Greenville, of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Clouser served three tours of duty in Iraq and Beller served one tour there.

All three politicians urged the crowd to talk to the veterans, ask them what they did during the service and thank them for keeping the country safe and free.

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