Schoeneck unveils memorial, honors ‘those who came home’

By on June 1, 2011

By: KAREN SHUEY Review Staff, Staff Writer

World War II veterans unveil the relocated Schoeneck Area Veterans Memorial on Monday at Schoeneck Park as part of the town's Memorial Day celebration. (Photos by Karen Shuey)World War II veterans unveil the relocated Schoeneck Area Veterans Memorial on Monday at Schoeneck Park as part of the town's Memorial Day celebration. (Photos by Karen Shuey)

When World War II broke out, more than 100 men and women packed their bags, kissed their sweethearts good-bye and left their small community of Schoeneck.

And, to everyone’s surprise and relief, all of those who went off to war came back alive and healthy.

"I don’t know if we were good at what we did or if we were just lucky. It didn’t matter, we were fortunate to be home," Harlan Shirk, one of the 103 who returned, said Monday.

To honor the sacrifice of each man and woman who went to fight and returned home, the Schoeneck War Memorial was erected by the veterans and their children in 1947. The memorial is something precious to them and their family members still alive today — but it’s also been a source of controversy.

After the purchase of the Schoeneck Fire Company building in 2008, which was home to the memorial, the Emmanuel Free Reformed Church took over the space and chose not to maintain the memorial.

That’s when a group of concerned citizens came together to form the Schoeneck Veterans Memorial Association and vowed to do whatever they could to rebuild the memorial in a new location. After carefully dismantling the monument brick by brick, the organization decided its new home would be at the entrance of Schoeneck Park.

Three years and a lot of hard work later, the association’s vision has been realized.

On Monday, a crowd of about 700 endured the sweltering heat to watch as the memorial was unveiled and dedicated during the town’s Memorial Day celebration.

Robert Eberly, a member of the Schoeneck Veterans Memorial Association, told the crowd that the day had been a long time in the making and wouldn’t have happened if not for the generosity of the community.

"The men and women of this area heard the call to serve their country. Hundreds of people and businesses once again answered that call to come together to honor their sacrifice," he said. "We did this all without the help of state or federal assistance — we did it as a community."

In addition to those who came to honor those who served their country, seven honorary guests were present for the ceremony — the remaining World War II veterans whose names appear on the memorial plaque.

The seven men, who received a touching ovation from the crowd, removed the American flag draped over the memorial. The stone monument, with five heavy stone balls, one surmounted by an eagle, and two flag poles, bears a bronze plaque honoring the residents of the Schoeneck area who served in World War II.

Across from the memorial a newer portion was also dedicated. Eberly said it made sense to add another memorial to the project, one honoring those who have served in military missions since World War II.

"We have a proud tradition of having residents who serve in the armed forces and we wanted to do something that would bring attention to that," he said.

Upon request, about 100 veterans separated from the crowd to remove the American flag draped over the new portion of the memorial. The monument, which mirrors the older portion, includes insignias of U.S. military operations.

After the ceremony, hundreds of residents and a few World War II veterans made their way toward the fire company building, where cold drinks and snacks were waiting.

Brothers Harlan and John Shirk accepted the "thank-yous" and hugs of appreciation from those attending, but insisted that they’ve never thought of themselves as heroes.

"There wasn’t a big celebration when we came home in 1945, just living was reward enough for us," John said.

In 1947, he said, the original dedication of the memorial didn’t include as much fanfare. A simple picnic was held with a few tunes played by a local band.

"I expected quite a few people here today, but nothing like this," he said. "It’s really touching to see this kind of response."

The 91-year-old said he can still remember aspects of his service as if he only got off the plane a week ago. During the war, John served in many notable maneuvers including the Battle of the Bulge.

While his younger brother, Harlan, didn’t see any action overseas, John said he finds comfort in retelling the past to him.

"It’s good to talk about what we went through, not to keep it bottled up," he said. "Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of us left. I feel grateful I’m still here to represent these men and women."

Harlan agreed.

"I’m glad I was here to see this," the 89-year-old said. "This was a great day." More MEMORIAL, page A11

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