The Kutztown High School Softball team honored local veterans for their service prior to their game against Oley at Kutztown Park on May 8.
“In today’s trying times we just wanted to do something positive to show more respect and support for our veterans in our community,” said Trevor Greenawalt of the Kutztown Hobos as well as one of the softball coaches.
The Military Appreciation Night event was organized by the Kutztown Hobos and the Kutztown High School Softball team.
"Each softball season we choose something to do for the community," said Kevin Conrad, Kutztown Softball team head coach. "We had planned to do it in 2020 season but because we were unable to have a softball season it was postponed to this year."
Military Appreciation Night was held to dedicate the flag pole and memorial that the Kutztown Hobos donated and placed at the softball field in 2019.
"We wanted (veterans) to be aware that we are honored to have that flagpole and memorial in our park and that we remember them all year long," said Conrad. "We hope that this can be an annual event for the softball program to participate in for our community."
“We think it turned out great. We had good numbers in participation,” said Kutztown High School Athletic Director Ed Yapsuga. “We’re glad that we were able to honor them and their families that night, show our apperception.”
There were 48 veterans honored during the ceremony, which Yapsuga said was fantastic as far as veteran participation.
“We hope that next year we have much more attendance as far as veterans on hand for the second time around for the event,” said Greenawalt.
Each softball player was asked to invite a veteran that they personally knew if possible. The booster club handed out small American flags to each veteran as they signed in at the event. The softball players escorted the veterans onto the field by groups of what war they fought in and also peacetime veterans.
Tadd Renninger and Jason Werly of the Kutztown Hobos raised the new flags and Topton Legion Post 217 provided the gun salute and the color guard for the event. Kutztown Area High School Band Director Dustin Shirk played "Taps" at the ceremony.
"It was a very humbling event to watch the new flags as they were put up the pole for the first time and to hear the 21 gun salute," said Conrad.
Also, the music played in between innings of the softball game were patriotic songs. The booster club ran a 50-50 raffle fundraiser and the money that was raised by the softball team was donated to Topton Legion.
Kutztown American Legion Post Vice Commander Jim Schlegel, who is also the Mayor of Kutztown, was among the Vietnam war veterans honored at the event.
"This honoring was important to all of us, especially Vietnam war veterans," said Schlegel. "We were not welcomed home by the general public when we returned home. I have my own personal story when I came home which I refuse to talk about. Some were even spit upon. We were considered horrible soldiers because of some of the atrocities that occurred during the war. Not every veteran did these things, only a very small amount did."
"By having events like this, we are all now starting to feel better for our service," added Schlegel.
A Specialist 5th Class in the United States Army Transportation Corps., Schlegel served active duty from June 20, 1968 to Dec. 25, 1970. He was honorably discharged.
"Many veterans suffer from PTSD," said Schlegel. "We did what we were asked to do by our country. That included taking an oath that we would defend our country to the death."
He said the atmosphere at the Military Appreciation Night event was really great. "We all felt welcome."
"I think any event honoring veterans is important. After all if it weren't for veterans the general public would not have the freedoms they all have today," said Schlegel. "It is extremely important to honor veterans at any time. That is why the Legion and VFW is still having services to honor past veterans who gave their lives for all of us on Memorial Day. That is what Memorial Day is actually about."
On Memorial Day, instead of a parade, the two veterans groups will hold short services at the Veterans Memorial in the Kutztown Park at 8 a.m., Fairview Cemetery at approximately 8:30 a.m. and Hope Cemetery at 9 a.m. The public is invited to all of the services provided they practice social distancing and wear masks.