Campbell honors its native son at program

Relatives of the late Pfc. Robert G. Stanko who attended Monday’s annual Memorial Day program at Campbell Memorial High School’s Veterans Memorial are, from left, Regina Sferra, Susan Stanko, Cheryl Abeid, Michelle Miranda and Yvonne Stanko. Robert Stanko, of Campbell, was killed in 1968 in the Vietnam War at age 20.

CAMPBELL — To know the late Pfc. Robert G. Stanko was to have known a young man who loved to play harmless pranks on others, someone who loved to elicit laughter from those in his presence, a talented musician and, perhaps most importantly, someone who knew how to love other people unconditionally, several of those who knew and remembered him say.

“Bobby was my uncle and my godfather who baptized me,” Yvonne Stanko, a niece, said. “He had a wicked sense of humor and musical talent. He played the saxophone.”

Stanko’s sister, Susan Stanko, remembered one such prank her brother played on her when he once placed a rubber spider outside of the family’s attic door, which led to an initial scream from surprise, followed by laughter. When he wasn’t up to such mirthful mischief, he sometimes treated her and others to ice cream, Susan Stanko said.

Robert Stanko, a U.S. Army soldier who lived on Robinson Road in Campbell, was shot to death Oct. 31, 1968, in the Vietnam War while trying to break up a fight between three others in a bunker in Pleiku Province, South Vietnam. He was 20.

The cause of death was listed as through nonhostile action and reported as an intentional homicide.

The young fallen soldier also was fondly remembered during Monday’s annual Memorial Day program at Campbell Memorial High School’s Veterans Memorial.

Sponsoring the somber, one-hour gathering was Campbell-based American Legion Post 560.

Cheryl Abeid, another of Stanko’s nieces, recalled her uncle was very kind to others. He also was in a band called The Delrays with his father, she added.

Before enlisting May 1, 1968, in the military, Stanko, a 1966 Campbell Memorial High graduate, attended Youngstown State University and worked part time for the Stambaugh-Thompson Co. He received basic training in California, then arrived in South Vietnam on Sept. 23, 1968, where he served as an artilleryman with the Headquarters & Service Battery, 6th Battalion, 29th Artillery, 4th Infantry Division.

For his service, Stanko was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, as well as the Vietnam Service and Vietnam Campaign medals.

Stanko also is one of more than 58,000 fallen men and women soldiers whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In addition, he is on the Vietnam War Memorial in downtown Youngstown.

Delivering the keynote address was Sgt. Frank Marr, who enlisted in 1968 in the U.S. Marine Corps. He also was a close friend of Stanko’s.

To illustrate his point that Memorial Day is about far more than enjoying a hot dog, beer and casual revelry, Marr shared his sadness at having seen on Facebook two contrasting images — one of a man blissfully grilling burgers with the caption “I wish every weekend was Memorial Day weekend,” and the other of a tearful woman looking at an image on a mantel of a fallen soldier who had been awarded a Purple Heart.

He also dissected the meaning of the opening words to the national anthem, saying they ask listeners if they can see the American flag waving at Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, at sunrise. The flag is symbolic of how the Americans held the fort and defended the harbor against the British Royal Navy during the War of 1812, said Marr, who completed boot camp at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and radio school at Camp Pendleton, California.

He also lamented the story behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, saying it took years to identify the soldier as 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie, an Air Force pilot who had been shot down in 1972 near An Loc, Vietnam.

DNA testing positively identified the remains as those of Blassie, who was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, according to the Arlington National Cemetery’s website.

Marr spoke during a brisk breeze and occasional dark skies, but said the weather wasn’t the main cause of the nearby raised flag’s movement.

“Our flag isn’t waving because of the wind; it flies with the last breath of the soldier who gave his or her life protecting it,” he added.

In addition, Marr served 17 months as a Marine combat radio man before returning to the U.S. in September 1970. He also was a longtime photographer with the Hometown Journal and continues in that capacity for the city of Struthers and more.

Monday’s program also included reading the names aloud of those from Campbell who lost their lives in combat during World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam wars and in active duty.

Making additional remarks at Monday’s service to thank those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation were Mayor Bryan K. Tedesco, city Law Director Lamprini Mathews and Judge Mark J. Kolmacic of Campbell Municipal Court.

Also during the program, Anthony Fontes, American Legion 560’s commander, said he hopes more veterans will join the organization so that it won’t have to be closed or consolidated.

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