Veterans Honor Fallen Comrades At Memorial Service In Boalsburg

Mike Dawson
Centre Daily Times

For Jim Fike, a Westmoreland County man whose son died in Afghanistan almost two years, heroes don’t wear capes.

They wear dog tags.

Those words, which he saw on a sign around Veterans Day last year, have stuck with him as he remembers his son, 38-year-old Robert Fike, a sergeant first class in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

They hit home Sunday, as Jim Fike and his wife, Christine, and hundreds of others honored the red keystone patch-wearing soldiers of the Pennsylvania National Guard and the 28th Infantry Division. The ceremony was on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum.

“He’s a hero not only for the way he died but for the way he lived,” Jim Fike said. “He’s the kind of person that he just loved this country, and he loved being a soldier and loved the people he soldiered with.”

The crowd included former National Guardsmen and women and high-ranking national guardsmen like Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, the adjutant general of Pennsylvania; Maj. Gen. Randall Marchi, who’s the commander of the 28th Division; and Brig. Gen. John Gronski, the deputy adjutant general.

They recognized in the crowd those who served in World War II, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the first Gulf War and those who served after 9/11. They also honored fallen soldiers in a roll call and placed wreaths on white crosses on the museum grounds.

Gov. Tom Corbett was the keynote speaker at the ceremony, and he paid tribute to the 28th Division in which he served from 1971 to 1984. “We do not know where life will take us,” he said, acknowledging he wouldn’t be the man he is today if it weren’t for his military service.

He went on to praise the soldiers for loving their country and their state, saying they “honored our freedom with their lives.”

“From the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Iraq, the 28th has put flesh, blood and bone between our homeland and the design of tyrants,” he said.

“Thank you for the service to this country. Thank you for taking care of our people not only in wartime but in peacetime.”

Sunday’s service included the dedication of a memorial monument to the 83 fallen soldiers in the 28th Division’s 2nd Infantry Brigade deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, from 2005 to 2006. The monument, a metal obelisk with the soldiers’ names engraved on the base, is on the museum grounds. It’s the second such monument to the 2nd Brigade, with the first erected in Iraq in April 2006 and transported to Fort Indiantown Gap, a guard training site in Lebanon County.

Gronksi was the commander of the 2nd Brigade in Iraq, and on Sunday, he commended the soldiers for the way they have lived their lives. He told the crowd to take inspiration in that.

“I thank God our country nurtured sons like these,” he said.

Tiffany Hammond and her husband, Tom, were a part of the 2nd Brigade and they attended the service and dedication on Sunday with their two young children, Lex and Kole.

Tiffany Hammond said the dedication was the first time she didn’t cry when thinking about the brigade.

“It’s the people we served with that didn’t get to come home the way we did,” she said. “It’s the first chance I’ve had to be happy about it.”

For Jim Fike, the second anniversary of his son’s death, June 11, 2010, is nearing. His son was a member of the National Guard for 16 years and was a military police officer, was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and had stints in Saudi Arabia and Italy. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

“I can consider my son a hero,” he said.

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