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Johnstown, Pa. Veterans Day parade loses its leader with the passing of Harry Plows

By DAVE SUTOR | The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa. | Published: March 15, 2019

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Dressed in his World War II Army uniform, Harry Plows walked along Main Street on Nov. 11, 1996, just as he had done on some previous Veterans Days.

At the same time, his friend Ed Wojnarowski was leaving Johnnie’s Restaurant and Lounge, then a popular eatery in the heart of downtown Johnstown.

“I said, ‘Harry, what are you doing here?’ Wojnarowski recalled.

Plows told him he was marching by himself because the city did not have a Veterans Day parade.

“I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Harry, you’ll never walk alone again,’ ” Wojnarowski said.

And he never did.

In 1997, Wojnarowski and other former servicemembers formed the Conemaugh Valley Veterans, which hosted a parade that November. Plows was named the event’s permanent honorary grand marshal, a position he held until his death on Tuesday. Every year since, hundreds of veterans and supporters have gathered to help Plows pay tribute to those who served their country.

“I think, at that time, we need a shot in the veteran community, and he provided it,” said Tom Caulfield, director of Veteran Community Initiatives, an organization that supports local veterans. “He provided a venue for it. Ed was the other person that took it with him.”

Plows participated in last year’s parade, leading a procession while riding in his motorized wheelchair, which resulted in him getting separated from some of the older veterans marching with him. So, Wojnarowski pulled his friend aside and told him: “ ‘You’re going too fast. You know there’s a speed limit here? We’re all behind you.’ He started laughing. He had a tremendous sense of humor.”

Plows died Tuesday at the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona at age 97.

“Johnstown’s loss is Heaven’s gain, I’ll tell you that much,” said former U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, who got to know Plows when attending the city’s annual Veterans Day activities.

Rothfus continued: “Men like Harry Plows define really Johnstown and part of that Greatest Generation. I can image a big parade up in Heaven, and he’s right up there at the front. I’m sure he was welcomed by a whole bunch of his colleagues when he got up there.”

As a member of the 19th Combat Engineers, Plows participated in battles at Tunisia and Sicily, earning the American Defense Service Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with five bronze stars, World War II Victory Medal and Good Conduct Medal. He reached the rank of sergeant.

Back stateside, he supported the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Catholic War Veterans, War Memorial Veterans Committee and other veterans’ causes.

“A veteran’s veteran to me is Harry Plows,” Caulfield said.

Caulfield also referred to him as a “top-notch” person.

“He was the type of guy that would seemingly do anything for you,” Caulfield added. “He was the guy you could go out and have a beer with and swap stories, and then he’d be ready to go out and do whatever task you needed to make this community better for the veterans. He was an everyday guy.”

Wojnarowski remembers a man who was “very friendly, always a smile, always had a nice word for people. He loved being a veteran, and he loved the veterans.”

Plows owned and operated a barber shop in Johnstown’s West End neighborhood for 35 years and then worked for the U.S. Postal Service following the 1977 Johnstown Flood.

He was a member of numerous organizations, including the First Catholic Slovak Band Hall, Knights of Columbus and American Postal Workers Union. Plows was a charter member of Johnstown’s Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America chapter.

“He was a regular, normal person who saw the need to do something, and he did it,” Rothfus said. “And that defines a lot of what America is about – that individual initiative, that vision, the execution and just making a difference.”

His funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Resurrection Catholic Church in the Cambria City neighborhood. The viewing is from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday at Francis G. Ozog Funeral Home, 710 Broad St., Johnstown.

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