Anthony DiBrino’s widow leaned on her walker as she looked down at her husband’s grave, one of the 15,000 graves marked by perfectly aligned white headstones.
The scene was Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Upper Makefield. Following Monday’s Veterans Day Memorial, Millie DiBrino and her son, Anthony Jr., stood alone in a field of those white markers, taking a moment to reflect on the life of their loved one, the retired Marine who fought in the South Pacific during World War II.
“He served on Guam and in Japan after the war, even being stationed in Hiroshima to help clean up the city (that had been pulverized by one of two atom bombs dropped on Japan),” said Millie DiBrino, a resident of Hatboro in Montgomery County.
“His service and patriotism makes me very proud. I think it’s great,” said the widow, who personally cared for Anthony Sr. until he died at the age of 90.
The story was one of many vignettes played out by several hundred veterans and their families who attended the annual memorial, a collective salute to veterans of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard.
Military pageantry marked the event, with the presentation of the colors, the uniforms of active and retired service men and women, and the three-volley salute over the cemetery. Guest speakers expressed their gratitude for those who fought for their country.
The keynote speaker was Peter D. Chapla, a veteran of the Marine Corps, and currently the principal of Father Judge High School in Philadelphia.
His theme was service, the need to care for our communities, with special attention to older veterans who live alone, or in veteran’s nursing homes, a project he includes in the community service requirements at Father Judge.
“Veterans in nursing homes were great once. We honor all those men and women who took the oath to serve their country and the Constitution,” said De Chapla, a veteran of the Gulf War.
Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick’s speech highlighted the cohesiveness of those who fought for their country by comparing the diversity of the services with that of the original painting of George Washington Crossing the Delaware, an event that took place not far from where the national cemetery is located.
Painted by the German Emanuel Lutz, the painting was more a reflection of the spirit and diversity of the patriots, who crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey and later prevailed during the Battle of Trenton. The art depicts a rowboat (Washington actually used Durham boats. The crew of 13 soldiers – representing the 13 colonies – included a Native American, a Scotsman, and an African American. The makeup of the crew was prescient, forecasting the diversity of today’s troops that fight side-by-side as one.
“(The painting) shows a group of people from different walks of life all going in the same direction. That’s what today’s men and women in the military represent,” Fitzpatrick said.
When services were over and the mournful sound of Taps echoed over the grounds, memories of battlefields, some far in the past, surfaced anew.
“I was a helicopter flight engineer, serving in Vietnam from 1969-70,” said Lower Makefield resident and U.S. Air Force veteran Calvin Day. “The crews stood by on alert and we’d fly up north to rescue American pilots that were shot down.”
The crews would also rescue injured from fighting in Da Nang. Pilots and crews were lost on those dangerous missions, Day said.
He added that the welcome for Vietnam vets is “getting better” compared to the ugly receptions they got returning from the war: airport greeters would be there to spit on the young fighters, or call them “baby killers.”
“We’re getting better recognition now. We served together and we don’t forget each other now,” he said.
Veterans Day was originally named Armistice Day, to mark the 11th hour, of the 11 day, of the 11th month in 1919 when the guns fell silent at the end of World War I. It became a national holiday in 1938.