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Veterans Day in Lititz Honoring Sgt. Wink From Omaha Beach to United Zion
LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent
PATRICK BURNS Record Express Staff
, Staff Writer
Anthony Zigment was there at Omaha Beach at one of deadliest days of World War II.
It was June 6, 1944 and the young Navy seaman was just 19, and part of the Navy’s Amphibious Forces that landed on the coast of Normandy in German-occupied France. Some 34,000 troops landed on that blood- stained beach on the English Channel, with the future of France and England at stake.
Of the brave soldiers at Omaha Beach, an estimated 2,400 American soldiers perished that day. Many of them were serving with Zigment.
Many were just teenagers, like Zigment. The white crosses that line the memorial at Normandy remember many of Zigment’s fellow seaman.
Now 89, Zigment recalls the day as if it was yesterday. On Veteran’s Day, he thinks of it most of all.
"I grew up very quickly that day. It was very hard to see so many dead people and the explosions all around us," said Zigment. "I will always remember."
Zigment was among the veterans honored at a Veteran’s Day breakfast and flag ceremony at United Zion Retirement Home, where Zigment is a resident.
He also led the rest of the residents in the Pledge of Allegiance outside the home, as an three-man honor guard fired a salute honoring the veterans who served their country.
The members of the Vet 21 Salute Honor Guard included three veterans who participate in the honor guard to serve at funerals for veterans.
One was Greg Ludwig, one of the co-founders of the guard. The Lititz man served in the Air Force from 1972 through 1987, spending time flying missions in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He then joined the reserves.
"Being a part of the Vet 21 Salute Honor Guard is very meaningful to the soldiers and their families," said Ludwig.
Ludwig was joined by Rick Ashby, another veteran who served in the Army starting in 1969. He later served with the National Guard, and recalled the hard work done to help regions of Pennsylvania recover after Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
The third member of the honor guard was Matt Good, who served in the Army during Desert Storm in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from 1988 through 1992. The honor guard arranges for Taps to be played at the funerals of veterans, who are entitled to military honors. They they fire a tribute with a 21-gun salute.
"We have served at more than 900 funerals," said Good, who explained that the honor guard is part of the ceremony in which the flag is folded and presented to the next of kin, in appreciation for their service of "duty, honor and country."
The special guest of the United Zion Veteran’s Day breakfast was Pennsylvania Representative Steven Mentzer of District 97, which covers Manheim Township, Lititz Borough and Warwick Township.
Mentzer thanked the veterans who had served their country, adding that Americans owe a debt of gratitude to the veterans who preserved their freedoms, including freedom of speech and the ability to discuss politics and other issues publicly.
Of the residents of United Zion Retirement Home, 22 percent of them are veterans, noted Phillip Burkholder, president. Several of them enjoyed a breakfast that featured red-white-and-blue drinks, quiche and potatoes.
"Today we celebrate our veterans," said Burkholder.
Samuel Priddey was one of them. He served in the Army from 1969 to 1970 in Vietnam. Another United Zion veteran was Harold Feister, who served in the Army during World War II in England, France and Germany.
"I was involved in many battles," said Feister, who was only 18 when he went to war. "It’s hard to explain what it was like."
Volunteers with Senior Helpers presented pins to many of the veterans in honor of their service. A few included Howard Wagaman, who served in the Army in the Korean War; Glen Brewer, who served in the Army; Daniel Pittman of the Air Force: and James Row of the Army.
Ann Loechner of the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW thanked the 26 million men and women who had served their country in the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. She read a poem about how a boy was changed into a man when he served "the colors."
"These are the veterans who fought to defend our freedom," said Loechner. "Many of them gave up their lives for us."
Therapists often advise combat vets not to discuss battlefield horrors that soldiers typically try to erase from their memory banks.
That opinion had long conflicted John Brady, whose tank commander, Brownstown native and Lititz resident Sgt. Melvin Wink was killed before his eyes 43 years ago along the Vietnam-Cambodia border.
Brady only recently opened up about the last day he and Wink occupied an armored personnel carrier traveling with their brothers in the U.S. Army 3rd Squadron of the 4th Armored Cavalry known as the "Raiders."
"Some men get more upset talking about it," Brady said Monday. "I’m the opposite, I say speak more, tell more people – because people have to know – they have to credit Melvin for his bravery."
Brady, from Syracuse, N.Y., was in the area to honor Wink during a Veteran’s Day tribute at Conestoga Valley High School.
CV had rededicated a plaque – originally bestowed 20 years ago to Wink – next to a new one honoring 2008 CV graduate Brandon M. Styer, who was killed in action in 2009 in Afghanistan.
Wink was a 1967 CV grad who was only a few weeks short of exiting combat and the Army to begin a life with his new bride Chris whom he married in Hawaii on R&R only a few weeks before shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade killed him on June 1, 1970.
"His bravery saved my life," Brady said. "But that left me with incredible guilt; he had died and I survived."
Brady said he had never talked about Wink’s death or his own six-month struggles immediately after while he remained "in country." But Brady’s long healing process peaked when he met with the Wink family Roland Memorial Park in Akron in 2011.
Like so many Vietnam vets, he suffered from PTSD and endured by abusing drugs and alcohol.
"I would be in a rage, very frustrated, I just had a real tough time and I took the drugs and alcohol when I returned from Vietnam," Brady said. "
Brady’s decision to discuss the details of Wink’s death provided closure for him and for Wink’s three brothers, two sisters and his widow. The family had tried unsuccessfully for four decades to reach out to soldiers who were with him when he died in Cambodia.
"I wrote letters to everyone I could find, but got no responses," said Arlene Sensenig, Wink’s sister. "But thanks to Internet and a Vietnam website we were able to connect to John, whom our family now calls "Uncle John."
Sensenig said Brady provided information the Wink family couldn’t get from the government and learned how Melvin had volunteered to be tank commander.
"He took the position because he had a natural ability to lead," Brady said.
"He had the respect of everyone around him and it was natural for him to take charge; he was a great man," Brady said.
Wink had only a few weeks left of combat service since – as was the military’s custom – he was scheduled to be placed out of "harms way" into a base camp for the final month of duty, Brady said.
But that never happened.
Wink had led a group of Sherman Tanks and tank-like APCs patrolling for weapon caches and stockpiles in a rubber tree plantation near the Cambodian border. He noticed enemy movement that Brady would later learn were fighters emerging from a tunnel system.
"(Wink) tapped me on the soldier to move to the rear of the APC so he could swing a 50-caliber gun to engage," Brady said. "The second I got up an RPG round hit the tank right where I had been sitting. He was killed instantly."
Brady said he "lost my sense of guilt" carried for 40-plus years by explaining the events to the family. "The important thing is to talk about it, to let it out."
The family vows to meet annually with him since the day they accompanied him on a deeply emotional first visit to Melvin’s grave where they held hands in a circle.
"We all felt a sudden breeze on a warm sunny day," Brady said. "It just gave me the sense that Melvin was there."
More WINK, page A17
More UNITED ZION, page A17