WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Some local “hometown heroes” were honored during a “Salute to Service” program on Friday that preceded performances by world-famous country rock bands which have a long history of supporting veterans and U.S. troops.
The large open area and part of the parking lot in front of the West Gate of Mohegan Sun Arena was filled with veterans and their families and veterans supporters, listening to local bands Iron Cowboy and The Irv Ball Band perform before the main show inside featuring the Charlie Daniels Band and The Marshal Tucker Band.
Bret Michaels also was scheduled to perform later, but he suddenly took ill Thursday during a performance at the Palace Theater in Manchester, New Hampshire, from complications involving insulin shock and severe low blood sugar, along with other conditions which doctors later determined included exhaustion, dehydration, fever and the norovirus.
Attendees of the pre-show heard the stories of two men who saved others’ lives — a family trapped in a burning house and a man pinned under a vehicle. They heard the stories of four others who went above and beyond in their service to their community, their country or to those who protect it.
Master of Ceremonies and local TV personality Drew Speier introduced the heroes to be honored, but first noted that partial proceeds from the event benefits the 1st Lieutenant Michael J. Cleary Memorial Fund.
Cleary, a 1999 graduate of Dallas High School, was killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom III on Dec. 20, 2005. In 2006, his family founded the fund, which focuses on families who have been affected by the injury or loss of a loved one in military service and causes that best represent Cleary’s commitment to service.
Speier introduced Cleary’s father, Jack Cleary, who noted some of the work the fund has done, from filling an oil tank or paying a car insurance bill “until the VA check comes.”
Just last week, Jack Cleary said, he got a call about a veteran from Wilkes-Barre who was in a car accident. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital, she was there two weeks and she had her car towed, so she had a $300 towing fee and a $50-a-day storage charge. “The fund took care of that,” he said.
Speier then introduced the heroes. First was Tim Moran, executive director of the Center for Independent Living in Scranton.
Moran lost his leg in 2005 after assisting a man who was pinned under a tow truck. While Moran was able to help free the man, his own foot became pinned under the truck in the process. He endured 13 operations culminating with the amputation of his leg above the knee.
But Moran didn’t let the injury deplete his zest for life. In addition to being an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities, he has competed in the Steamtown Marathon’s wheelchair division and gone skydiving, and he and his wife Lisa are expecting their ninth child.
Recognized next was Maj. Richard Coslett, co-owner of a family and cosmetic dental practice in Shavertown. Coslett in 2009 enlisted in the U.S. Army Individual Mobilization Augmentee Program — a program that requires two weeks of active duty per year and one 90-day deployment in the United States in six years.
But Coslett volunteered for three deployments, including doing dental work on prisoners of war, and U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. He was the only one of the 63 program members who had two war zone deployments.
Cyndee Kapes and her boyfriend Walt Hunsicker, both of McAdoo, Schuylkill County, were honored next. Kapes joined the U.S. Army Reserves in 1981 and was activated for the 1991 Gulf War. She is now completely disabled.
Kapes met Hunsicker at a motorcycle ride for veterans, spent five years doing missions with riding clubs for veterans and founded “True Heroes Own Dog Tags” last year to provide motorcycle escorts for military funerals. They also advocate for veteran homelessness awareness and the fact that women are veterans too.
Hunsicker created a “rolling memorial” on the back of his motorcycle composed of Kapes’ combat boots and helmet. When he refused his employer’s orders to remove the “soldier’s cross,” which included a rifle, from the back of his bike while parked on compant property, he was fired.
Jeffary Stewart, 25, of Luzerne, was dubbed a local hometown hero because he pulled three people from a fire in Mocanaqua a few weeks ago. He saw a 5-year-old boy in a burning house, so he ran inside and carried the boy out. The boy told Stewart his brother, mother and grandmother were still inside. Stewart twice went back in the burning building and carried out the 3-year-old brother and the boy’s mother. He was unable to save the grandmother.
And finally, David Orloski, 28, of Mountain Top, was honored for his service in the U.S. Army, in which he enlisted as an infantryman in 2009. As a member of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, he served as a rifleman, squad machine gunner and assault fire team leader. As a Ranger, he completed four deployments to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and, in 2011, was chosen as a 3rd Ranger Battalion Soldier of the Year.
Representatives of event sponsors NBT Bank, Quaker Steak and Lube, Noto’s Harley Davidson, Eyewitness News and Rock 107 presented the heroes with gift bags.
“It’s remarkable,” Moran said of the event after the presentations. “I truly believe it’s an honor well deserved by veterans. It’s something that needs to be recognized more often. And it’s good to know that efforts you make in service to your community don’t go unnoticed.”
The Salute to Service was a something the performers at the main show wanted to see happen.
In 1974, Charlie Daniels organized the first in a series of Volunteer Jams that have continued to tour successfully ever since. He and his band members have always supported the armed forces and veterans. His hit “Still in Saigon” is an effective portrayal of the plight of American Vietnam Vets 10 years after the war.
In 2007, Michaels and his band toured U.S. bases in Iraq. His song “Something to Believe In” was adopted as a theme song by soldiers in Iraq. Michaels also supports Operation Homefront, which provides emergency assistance to families of service members and wounded warriors.
Four of the original members of the Marshall Tucker Band served in Vietnam, and the band continues to support our troops and veterans.