13 veterans saluted at Patriots Day event in Austintown
By WENDY WOLFGANG
AUSTINTOWN — About 100 people attended the 13th annual Patriots Day ceremony, including 13 decorated veterans who were honored for their service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over 13 years, 200 veterans have been honored at the event, which was Thursday evening at Quaker Steak & Lube in Austintown.
Tom Mock, former spokesman for the General Motors Lordstown plant, served as master of ceremonies. He expressed appreciation to the veterans by saying, “They are all remarkable men whom I thank with sincerity and gratitude.”
The annual Patriotism Award was presented to the Austintown Fitch High School Concert Choir for its service to 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 Westmoreland, whose husband Haskel B. “Wes” Westmoreland 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, who served for 22 years, 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.
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 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, his plane was shot, and an engine caught on fire. He could only get the fire out by sending the plane into 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 and reside in Lake Milton.
Phil DeCapito of Warren served in the Navy in the Korean War in an 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 an enemy 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.
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, Army Air Corps.; John Fedorek, Vietnam, Army; Charles Tranum, Vietnam Marine Corps.; Joe Calabria, Vietnam, Marine Corps; Ray Schafer, Vietnam, Army; and Clinton Ray, Vietnam, Army. The following served in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan: Lance Matthews, Navy; Anthony G. Dricken, Army; and Joshua G. Ackler, Navy.