AUSTINTOWN — A crowd of onlookers turned their faces upward Thursday evening as Youngstown firefighter and veteran parachuter Jim Drummond floated down from hundreds of feet in the air to land in a restaurant parking lot and kick off the 16th annual Patriots Day celebration.
The event at Quaker Steak & Lube honored 13 veterans for their service and sacrifice.
Organizer Ken Jakubec, a Marine veteran himself, said it was a “living history lesson.”
“I do (this) every year because these stories need to be told,” Jakubec said.
The Austintown Fitch Junior ROTC was on hand to present the colors and Chaplain John Chittock with American Legion Lake Post 737 of Lake Milton gave the invocation.
The Austintown Fitch Choir, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a choir dedicated to performing for veterans, sang the national anthem and then performed two more songs, shaking the hands of veterans being honored and those in the crowd as they gave their rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.”
The bulk of the event, though, was dedicated to sharing the stories of each of the 13 honorees. Herm Breuer, director of the Trumbull County Veterans Service Commission, read a short biography on each before they were presented with a plaque by local Vietnam veteran Leo Connelly Jr. and Chris Wortman, a Gold Star Mother who lost her son, Sgt. Robert Carr of the U.S. Army, in 2007 in Baghdad.
U.S. Army Cpl. William Blascak, a Girard native, was drafted into the Army in 1952 and was trained to be an Airborne Military Policeman, serving with the 503th Regimental Combat Team. He returned to the Mahoning Valley and used his GI Bill to get a degree from Youngstown State University, where he later taught biology for 25 years.
Breuer said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John Turner’s military awards were “too numerous to list,” but that he had served in every major conflict dating back to the Vietnam War, retiring from the military with 33 years of service, including time in the National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. Originally from Masontown, W.Va., Turner, of Warren, first enlisted in 1970, on his 20th birthday.
U.S. Army Sgt. Mickey Nuzzo of Boardman was working at Youngstown Sheet and Tube when he was called up in 1969. He became a combat medic in Vietnam with the 14th Corps Artillery, providing fire support in the north at places like Khe Sahn, Dong Ha and Con Thien. Among other awards, he earned two Bronze Star medals. He went on get a degree from YSU and continued a career in medicine as a physician’s surgical assistant.
USMC Sgt. Paul Shultz, while not from the Mahoning Valley, has deep ties to the area. In 1965, Shultz, of Niagara Falls, N.Y., was a Marine Corps combat engineer with the 2nd Patrol Company C 3rd Engineers in Vietnam and befriended Valley native Sgt. James Prommersburger. When Shultz fell ill in April 1966, Prommersburger volunteered to take his place on a mission. Prommersburger was ambushed and killed in action. Shultz later reconnected with the Prommersburger family.
Butch Hardy was drafted into the Army after graduating from West Branch High School, but instead decided to join the Navy and was trained as a hospital corpsman. He served in Vietnam with the 3rd Battalion 9th Marines. When his company was attacked in February 1968, he not only treated his own wounds but the wounds of his comrades, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. After returning home, he worked at General Motors Lordstown until his retirement in 2000.
Sgt. Jared Paine of East Palestine, an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper at the Canfield post, was sent to Iraq and Afghanistan after joining the Marine Corps. For his service, he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, among other decorations.
Originally from Canton, U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Mike Haught served two tours of duty on patrol boats in Vietnam and in the Persian Gulf. He worked on nuclear cruisers and nuclear submarines and was awarded a Vietnam Service Medal and a Submarines Badge. Haught was in the hospital and unable to attend Patriots Day, so his son, Travis Haught, accepted the honor on his behalf.
U.S. Army Sgt. James Kaster of Cuyahoga County “has worn many hats,” Breuer said. Born in Warren, Kaster served with the Big Red One in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. He returned home and went to work at General Motors Lordstown, but continued to serve his brothers and sisters in uniform on the VA Veterans Advisory Council of Northeast Ohio and on the DAV Department of Ohio Executive Board, among other organizations and roles.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Gonzales began his career between the Arizona Army National Guard and the Air Force before becoming Active Guard Reserve Security Forces with the Air Force, which took him overseas for Operation Desert Shield and Kosovo. His most significant duty, however, was being a first responder at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. After finishing his service there in November 2002, Gonzales never returned to New York City.
U.S Navy Lt. Dr. Dana Robinson-Street of Columbus retired after 25 years in the Navy, first as enlisted servicewoman then as a commissioned officer. She served on the USS Gompers, one of the first ships to allow women to crew, and participated in combat in Desert Storm. Robinson-Street is the founder of Leading our Leaders, part of numerous boards that provide services to veterans throughout Ohio and in 2018 was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame. Chaplain Dave Durrett with VFW Post 4237of Youngstown presented Robinson-Street with red, white and blue flowers during the Patriots Day celebration.
The former commander of the 910th Mission Support Group at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, U.S. Air Force Col. Kevin Riley is the senior aerospace instructor at Austintown Fitch High School. He served “pretty much everywhere,” Breuer said, and has decorations including the Legion of Merit and Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters.
USAF Senior Master Sgt. Tom Marhulik “also served pretty much everywhere,” including Bosnia, Central America, South America, Iraq and Afghanistan, Bruer said. Marhulik, a Mathews High School graduate, joined the Air Force Reserves in 1984 and then transferred to active duty before eventually returning to the Youngstown Reserve Air Base. While retired from YARS, he is an aerospace instructor at Austintown Fitch High School.
The final honoree, Dennis Angelo Ferraro, died in a helicopter training crash in 1971 near Pergnitz, Germany. The Youngstown native graduated from Girard High School before enlisting in airborne school and being deployed to Vietnam, where he served from 1969 to 1970 with the 101st Airborne Division, HHC-15th Aviation Group, 2nd Brigade. In Vietnam, he was involved in more than 100 combat and rescue missions. He returned home for furlough before he was deployed to Germany, where he and 36 other men died in the worst non-combat crash of that time.
Ferraro’s brother, Bob Ferraro, accepted the honor on his behalf.
The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute by Disabled American Veterans Youngstown Chapter 2 and the playing of taps by Marc Pupino with Austintown schools.
Breuer encouraged all those in attendance to talk with the honorees, and a line that stretched across the restaurant’s parking lot promptly formed as people sought to shake the veterans’ hands.
The event, held just days before the 21st anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, also invoked the sacrifice of that day.
Breuer said the Patriots Day and the remembrance of 9/11 means a lot to the community’s youth, which was evident from the participation of Austintown Fitch High School.