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Veterans honored at Patriots Day ceremony

September 25, 2019
By Wendy Wolfgang , The Town Crier

About 100 people attended the 13th annual Patriots Day ceremony on Thursday, including 13 decorated veterans who were honored for their service in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Over 13 years, 200 veterans have been honored at the event, which is held at Quaker Steak & Lube.

Tom Mock, former spokesman for the Lordstown General Motors plant, served as emcee. He expressed appreciation to the veterans by saying, "They are all remarkable men whom I thank with sincerity and gratitude."

Article Photos

Parachutist Jim Drummond brings an American flag with him when he jumps from a plane in honor of veterans at the 13th annual Patriots Day on Thursday, Sept. 5 at Quaker Steak and Lube in Austintown.

The annual Patriotism Award was presented to the Austintown Fitch High School Concert Choir for their service to the veterans. In 1972, the choir was created by Rosemary Kascher and Capt. Milton Kockert (Ret.) with the primary purpose of traveling the United States and entertaining veterans in Veterans Administration hospitals. In spring of 2020, the choir will be traveling to the Hines and Jesse Brown VA hospitals in Chicago.

Gerry Westmorland, whose husband Haskel B. "Wes" Westmorland served in Vietnam, said "I was young when Wes went to Vietnam. But I always knew he'd come back home. I don't know why, but I always knew."

Wes, an Army command sergeant major, completed an eight-month tour in Korea and three tours in Vietnam, where he experienced 32 months of combat. Wes earned two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star for gallantry. His commendation reads that he "kept with the highest traditions of the military."

The sergeant led four infantry men into the jungle to rescue wounded soldiers. He made himself an easy target by marking the position for the helicopter with his flashlight. He served for 22 years in the Army. Wes and Gerry have been married for 61 years and reside in Lake Milton.

World War II veteran 1st Lt. Merrill Spahlinger served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was deployed in 1943. He was a navigator of a B-17 bomber and flew 35 missions from England to Germany. On one of those missions to bomb an oil refinery in Leipzig, Germany, his plane was shot and an engine caught on fire. He could only get the fire out by sending the plane in a dive, which extinguished the fire at 9,000 feet. He received the Air Medal for his service.

Spahlinger's son, Rick, said his father enlisted because he thought it was his duty. Rick attended the ceremony with him. Merrill and his wife, Francis, have been married for 75 years. They reside in Lake Milton.

Phil DeCapito of Warren served in the Navy in the Korean War in the Underwater Demolition Team, which is now known as the Navy Seals. He said he was 300 feet below sea level when he planted bombs on the enemies' ship. While he was doing this, DeCapito lost three fingers on his left hand when a blasting cap was set off in his hand while underwater.

"I don't remember anything after that," he said.

Because of his underwater mission, DeCapito had to spend five days in a decompression chamber. He was married for 50 years until his wife died.

To close the ceremony, Marc Pupino of the Austintown Fitch High School music department played Taps, and the American Legion Post 737 offered a 21-gun salute.

The other honorees were Irving "Irv" Lev, World War II, U.S. Army Air Corps.; John Fedorek, Vietnam, U.S. Army; Charles Tranum, Vietnam, U.S. Marine Corps.; Joe Calabria, Vietnam, U.S. Marine Corps; Ray Schafer, Vietnam, U.S. Army; and Clinton Ray, Vietnam, U.S. Army. The following served in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan: Lance Matthews, U.S. Navy; Anthony G. Dricken, U.S. Army and Joshua G. Ackler, U.S. Navy.



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