Stonesifer was the keynote speaker the 2008 Hometown Hero Banner Program and Celebration held Saturday, which honored generations of veterans from Clinton County.
The ceremony, which was held by Downtown Lock Haven Inc. and the Clinton County Veteran’s Affairs Office, was a tribute to soldiers from Clinton County and surrounding communities who served or are serving the country in a branch of the military.
More than 350 “Hometown Hero” banners, which featured the soldier’s name and picture, what branch of the military they served or are serving in and their hometown, were unveiled in Lock Haven Saturday.
Stonesifer, whose son died in combat in 2001, spoke to about 600 people who sat in Triangle Park and explained what a “Gold Star Mother” is, and about the bonds they share with each other.
Stonesifer said that “Gold Star Families” are families that have lost family members that have served in the military and that “Gold Star Mothers” are mothers that have lost children.
“Gold Star Families know there is a price to be paid for freedom,” Stonesifer said. “This organization has been one of my lifelines.”
She said after her son died, she began hearing from other mothers who had lost children in the war, and she knew she had a unique bond with each of them.
“No one wants to be a ‘Gold Star Mother’ and we pray our group will never increase,” Stonesifer said.
Stonesifer also explained that a “Blue Star Family” is a family that has a part of it currently serving overseas in a war.
“My heart goes out to all the ‘Blue Star Families’ and my fervent prayer is that you ‘Blue Star Families’ never turn to gold,” Stonesifer said.
The organizers for the Hometown Heroes Celebration spent about six months preparing, raising funds and getting sponsors for the event.
Lock Haven Mayor Rick P. Vilello Jr. said he was proud of Lock Haven for making this event and other events happen within the community.
“We do this all of the time and it is not like that in every community,” Vilello said. “Events like these couldn’t happen without the volunteers and I want to say thank you to them.”
Another part of the ceremony featured Kevin A. Eichenlaub, an Iraq War Veteran, unveiling his banner near Triangle Park on Bellefonte Avenue.
Eichenlaub said when he agreed to speak on behalf of veterans at the event, he thought he would be speaking to about 150, but as the amount of banners grew he knew the number of people coming to the event would increase.
“As the numbers started to rise, so did my anxiety level,” Eichenlaub said laughing. “I’m honored to be here today and to be part of this amazing project and to represent the brave women and men of this great country that helped throughout the years to keep our country and our county free.”
Joel Long, chairman of the Clinton County commissioners, also spoke to the group and said that veterans who have died live through memories and in people’s hearts.
“These banners are a way to give people a little piece of immortality and to help us never forget them,” Long said.
The program was modeled after Harrisburg’s Hometown Hero Program in 2007, where 122 banners were unveiled honoring fallen solders from the state who were killed in the Iraq/Afghanistan war.
Lock Haven and Clinton County’s program is unique in that the soldiers represented on these banners are living and decreased, representing those who have served or are serving in a branch of military.
The Central Mountain Middle School Choir started the ceremony by signing the National Anthem where some people in the crowd joined in. The group also sang America The Beautiful and God Bless America.
Many volunteer hours went into the event, and Maria Boileau, downtown manager for Downtown Lock Haven Inc. and Dave Bower, Clinton County director of Veterans Affairs, were given standing ovations.
Linda Hiton, a Mill Hall resident who attended the event, described it as wonderful. “It really just gives you chills,” she said. “I cried through half the ceremony,” she said.
The 82nd Airborne color guard begins Lock Haven’s Hometown Hero Banner Program with a flag ceremony.