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'All gave some, some gave all:' Scranton veterans add long-awaited sign to honor fallen

Pat Ahern tells stories about men who died during the Vietnam War.
Aimee Dilger
Pat Ahern talks about local soldiers who died during the Vietnam War.

Marine Corps and National Guard veteran Frank Baux remembers the most recent name added to the memorial in Scranton.

Baux lived five houses down from the 19 year old in the city.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 25 threw a party for Marine Lance Cpl. Larry Johnson before he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.

“I saw him before he left,” said Baux, now in his 60s. “I shook his hand, and I told him, ‘Be careful when you go over there.’”

The young marine died months later in February 2010.

Frank Baux stands before the list of Scranton WII veterans who died during combat. His uncle, who fought in the Battle of the Bu
Aimee Dilger
Frank Baux stands before the list of Scranton WII veterans who died during combat. His uncle, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, is among the names.

Scranton's Pat Ahern, also a Marine veteran, recalled high school classmates who died in Vietnam.

“Jimmy Reddington and I, we played baseball together,” Ahern said. “Gerry Coyle was a friend of mine. He was killed actually on his birthday.”

Reddington was 19. Coyle had just turned 21.

Out of the 983 names of Scranton natives carved into stone at Scranton Veterans Memorial Park, Ahern said, not one of them died in vain.

“What they did should never be forgotten,” Ahern said. “It's what made America what it is today. That's the reason we do Memorial Day.”

A park committee made up of Ahern, other Scranton veterans and non-veterans spearheaded efforts to create the memorial just outside Scranton High School on Providence Road.

The park and monument sit next to Veterans Memorial Stadium, which on Wednesday received a brand new archway denoting the name and the phrase: “all gave some, some gave all.”

“It was a long-term project,” Ahern said, with plans beginning nearly ten years ago for the park, and the dedication in July 2020.

Now, family members and friends gather there each year to remember lost loved ones. Even President Joe Biden stopped at the park during a campaign visit last month. Biden's uncle, Ambrose J. Finnegan, died in WWII.

Ahern invited Biden to visit the memorial one year ago.

“I asked for one thing,” he said. “If you come here, just come here and don't tell anybody so you can peacefully visit your uncle.”

‘Not just another day’

Simply a three-day weekend for some, Memorial Day’s true meaning is often watered down, said Vietnam veteran Dave Roman of VFW Post 25.

“Make sure you know the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” he said. "One is to honor all veterans. Memorial Day is for the fallen."

In his youth, Baux said, he didn’t pay much attention to the federal holiday. Then, the Marine Corps stationed him in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. He started to visit the Pearl Harbor memorial for sailors on the USS Arizona.

“I saw the names of all the sailors that were lost in the ship,” Baux said, “and that really dawned on me. I'm in the service now. I might not come home if I get called in.”

Years later in the National Guard, Baux was sent to Iraq in 2003. “In places that we went to, there were always mortars coming in, and I’m thinking, ‘I hope I can get home and make it home.’”

Baux thinks of those times, especially on Memorial Day, when he remembers the soldiers who didn’t make it back, he said.

When a soldier dies in combat, a chaplain and military officer notify the family, Ahern added.

“I can't even imagine,” he said. “When that chaplain and that officer walk up your sidewalk to your front door, they bring you the telegram, that's the way it's done.

“We have the same consideration for every veteran, no matter what war, what time they served,” Ahern said. “When you raise your hand and take that oath –”

“–When you sign that blank check,” Baux added.

“You are putting your life on the line, whether you go to war or don't go to war,” Ahern said.

“Everybody's in that, we're all together.”

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's All Things Considered. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.

You can email Tom at tomriese@wvia.org