A park built of stories

By on February 27, 2015

Tribute to Lancaster County veterans continues to raise funds

As a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, George E. Smith made many sacrifices for his country and his family.

“Our mother lived here in Lititz, while our father was stationed all over the U.S. as an Army Air Corps engineer and flight instructor,” recalls their oldest daughter Carolyn Weidman of Lebanon County.

Only Weidman and her next oldest sister Marcia Lefever of Lititz remember the years the family was apart. Their mother, Ruth Showers Smith, wanted to be near her family in her hometown of Lititz while her husband served his country.

Their younger sister Jan Bailey of Lititz and brother Byron George Smith of Chambersburg were lucky to have come along after their father had finished his military service and had returned home to be with his family.

“He was a wonderful father. We were very close and he wrote us letters all the time,” said Weidman, noting that her father died in 1985 at 65, while their mother died in 2009 at 89.

So, this past Christmas when the four siblings were discussing their plans for gifts to each other, they decided to do something special to honor their veteran father.

They donated a gift in memory of him to the Veterans Honor Park of Lancaster County, which will be located next to the Lititz Public Library on land donated by Wayne Siegrist, also the son of a veteran.

“I had just read about the Veterans Honor Park in the Lititz Record, and we decided it would be the perfect gift from his children,” said Weidman.

Each year, the sisters and brother forego expensive gifts to each other at Christmas. Now in their 50s and 60s, they feel that they don’t need a lot of “things.” In the past, they have donated to Hospice and Community Care, which cared for their parents, and to churches in their community.

Sisters (left to right) Jan Bailey, Marcia Lefever and Carolyn Weidman look over their father’s military memorabilia. (Photo by Laura Knowles)

Sisters (left to right) Jan Bailey, Marcia Lefever and Carolyn Weidman
look over their father’s military memorabilia. (Photo by Laura Knowles)

“Making this donation to the Honor Park is significant to us, and we plan to make it an annual donation,” added Bailey.

It’s always nice to have your Christmas shopping wrapped up early.

When David Kramer, an organizer for the new Veterans Honor Park, received the check and letter from the siblings, he was touched. The former U.S. Marine and Vietnam War veteran is also a Warwick Township supervisor, and he decided to accept the challenge of leading the the effort to create the park.

“The story of you, your sisters and brother foregoing Christmas presents to one another in order to honor your father is extraordinary. It has nothing to do with the dollar amount of the contribution, and everything to do with the love you’ve shown,” wrote Kramer when he received their donation and note.

It was a simple note, saying that the gift to the veterans park was meant to honor their farther and his life.

“We are thrilled that an Honor Park will be located in our hometown,” wrote Weidman. “Our dad would be totally on board.”

Although First Lieut. Smith never served overseas, he gave nine years to his country. He always wanted to go into action as a pilot, but he was needed stateside to train pilots to fly aircraft such as B-29 and B-17 4-engine heavy bombers. As a flight trainer, he prepared pilots to go into battle.

In the years he was stationed at training bases, he rarely got to see his family. Once when he was in Fort Worth, Texas, he was able to have his family come for a visit. Only Weidman and Lefever remember the wonderful visit — their younger sister and brother had not yet been born — when they were a real family all together.

“It was a very special time for us and our mother,” said Lefever.

They still have a black and white photograph of the family, with their very tall and thin father holding his daughters’ hands. They have many other keepsakes to remember their father too.

There are model planes of the aircraft for which he trained pilots. There are photographs, pins, medals and uniforms. One of their most cherished keepsakes is a small red flag with a blue star on white. It was the Service Star that families of veterans displayed in their windows.

A blue star showed that a member of the family was in military service. A gold star meant that a veteran had been lost in the war.

“It was a time when we knew there was a war and we worried about our father,” recalled Weidman. “Every time we heard the air raids and planes flew overhead, we were scared. We missed him a lot.”

By 1952, Smith returned to his family, working first at Wertsch Jewelers, then at Yerger Brothers. The younger children got to be with their father growing up. And the Smith family was grateful for that.

Many families faced the same experience of having a loved one serving in he military. That’s why it means so much to the Smith family to remember their veteran father and all the others who served.

“We are thankful for the contributions we receive for the park,” says Kramer. “It doesn’t matter how large or small, every donation will help to make the Veterans Honor Park a reality.”

Fundraising kicked off in late 2014, and groundbreaking is expected to take place in 2015 or 2016. The finished Lancaster County Veterans Honor Park will mostly likely be completed in 2016 or 2017, reported Kramer.

The land donation is valued at $180,000 and construction is tentatively estimated at more than $1,065,000. A maintenance endowment of $350,000 to $500,000 will be needed to take care of the park into the future.

To find out more about the Veterans Honor Park of Lancaster County, check the website at vetshonorparklanco.org.

Laura Knowles is a local freelance feature writer for the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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