Nearly 50 veterans attended the Veterans Day ceremony held Friday, Nov. 10, at Montrose Area Jr.-Sr. High School, and were pleased to hear that the Department of Veterans Affairs has honored the school’s observance as a regional site. High school junior and event organizer Riley Brown said the veterans themselves are the reason that Montrose was able to gain this recognition.
The Veterans Day National Committee recognizes select Veterans Day observances throughout the country that represent fitting tributes to America’s heroes serve as models for other communities to follow in planning their own observances. Only 60 Veterans Day program sites have been recognized, and Montrose Area Jr.-Sr. High School is one of only two in the state of Pennsylvania.
Guest speaker Joe Andre said, “I have a story to tell.” He began a remembrance that started in 1964 at Fort Knox. “Most of the troops who came in were 17 or 18 years old, like many of you. They were there because their mom and dad were having trouble, because they couldn’t get a job, because a judge said join the army or go to reform school, or worse, jail. They were a rag-tag bunch.”
Andre said that 12 weeks later, “What a transformation had taken place. At graduation, they were standing tall, ranks were pretty straight. Fast forward a few months to Korea, to the demilitarized zone. After the armistice was signed, a standard tour in Korea lasted
13 months. Their job was to watch North Koreans from guard posts. They had to get up at 4 a.m. and they were not relieved until 6 p.m.”
Andre said, “This day is to honor those men and women in front of me who have served. These patriots aren’t looking for recognition. Rather, we present ourselves as an example.”
The keynote speaker, Retired Captain Michael Koscelnak, served with the Pennsylvania National Guard in Bosnia and Kuwait.
Koscelnak grew up in Gibson and attended Mountain View High School. He signed up for the National Guard, and said that his goal for basic training was to “make it through without his drill sergeants knowing who he was.”
Finally, a drill sergeant took him aside and said, “These people want you to lead them, so why don’t you?”
Koscelnak his 21st birthday training with the German Army at a base in the Azores. He was soon promoted to Sergeant.
He was sent to keep watch over Lake Carey during an emergency there, when there was no power. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant.
“Then September 11 happened, and that changed us all,” he told the students.
He was sent to Bosnia in 2002, where he completed more than 100 missions, mostly intelligence gathering and peace keeping.
In January 2005, he was selected for a pre-deployment operation for Iraq. Their most frequent assignment was to go out and pick a fight with insurgents. “That’s when I found out what war was like,” he said.
His platoon received nine Bronze Stars, 30 Purple Hearts, and one of the highest casualty rates of that time.
“Daniel Arnold, whose picture hangs outside on that wall, was my friend, and he didn’t make it back,” he said. “Keith Bennett didn’t make it back, either.”
Bennett, of Holtwood, was killed as he stopped an explosives-packed car entering a military base in Rimadi, Iraq.
Koscelnak retired from the service in 2016.
Susquehanna County Director of Veterans Affairs and County Commissioners Alan Hall, Elizabeth Arnold and MaryAnn Warren commended Brown for his extraordinary efforts to honor the veterans of Susquehanna County.
A letter was read by David Shulton, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. It read, in part: “The freedoms you enjoy today and every day are because of the sacrifices you veterans have made, and we thank you.”
A video address from Governor Tom Wolf also thanked the veterans for their service.