While inclement weather forced the ceremony inside, nothing dampened the spirits of those who humbly gathered in Oley to remember the fallen.
Moved in a last-minute decision to the Oley Valley High School auditorium, the annual Memorial Day service, sponsored by Oley American Legion Post 878 and led by Commander Carl Brown, went on as planned, including a 21-gun salute held outside during a break in the weather.
The service opened with members of the Oley Valley High School marching band playing a medley of traditional American works entitled “Spirit of America.” After the formal posting of the colors by the Legion’s color guard, the band played the national anthem for the 150 or so in attendance.
Marking the start of the ceremony, Commander Brown noted the MIA/POW chair to his left, which symbolized the thousands of service men and women who remain missing and unaccounted for after conflicts worldwide.
Brown said the chair was a fixture at all official meetings of the Legion as a “reminder for all of us to spare no effort to secure the release of any American prisoners from captivity.”
“Let us rededicate ourselves to this vital endeavor,” Brown added.
Brown noted that Legion members are devoted to honoring the holiday through their many outreach efforts. Earlier in the day, they had placed over 800 flags on soldiers’ graves in five cemeteries in Oley and Pike Townships. They also dedicated a war cannon at the Legion headquarters in honor of a former Legion member.
After a short recitation by Oley Valley Middle School student Dylan Kelly, Brown introduced featured speaker State Representative Mark Gillen. Gillen, of Robeson Township, represents the 128th District, which includes parts of Berks and Lehigh Counties.
Gillen told the story of Lt. Cmdr. Frederick Crosby, a Navy pilot who was shot down over Vietnam in 1965 while conducting a bomb-damage assessment. The remains of the 31-year-old pilot, armed only with a camera, had been missing for over half a century when, in 2015 military investigators — thanks to the help of a lifelong Vietnamese resident — discovered the crash site and recovered some of Crosby’s remains and personal items, including a patch of clothing, a lighter and his wedding band.
While Crosby’s children were at the forefront of the efforts to bring their father’s body home, Gillen credited the United States government for maintaining the search for Crosby over the past 50 years.
“One thing our government has gotten right is that we are the only nation on earth that makes an effort to recover remains,” Gillen said. “As for Lt. Cmdr. Crosby, that’s a debt of gratitude we owe.”
Crosby’s remains were buried Sunday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego with his family in attendance. Memoralized on his tombstone are the words “He is home.”
Gillen said that America is committed to bringing home the tens of thousands of military men and women still missing from conflicts overseas, and will do everything in his power to maintain that commitment, so that families of the fallen can also say “he is home.”
After his message, Gillen was presented with a Purple Heart Poster, signed by Woodrow Wilson and intended for inclusion in the Berks History Museum.
With the crowd solemnly listening as Legion members gave 21-gun salute, the ceremonies came to a close as Oley Valley High School students Bailey Foreman and Justin Mace played Taps.