Greater Pittston residents reflect during annual Memorial Day parade in West Pittston, Exeter


Veterans, fallen military men and women honored at annual parade

By Tony Callaio - For Sunday Dispatch



Frank Onda, 95, of Exeter, travels in the parade in a restored Army Jeep owned by Carmen Falcone during the annual Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 30.


Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Andrew Bell, 6, of Wilkes-Barre, dons a patriotic hat as he watches the Memorial Day parade with relatives in Exeter.


Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Army Staff Sgt. Steve Azocar, center, marches with two veterans, Bill Burke, left, and Ron Faust, all of West Pittston, as they walk in the 2016 West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 30.


Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Retired Pennsylvania State Police Cmdr. Carmen Altavilla, of Exeter, speaks at the conclusion of the annual West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 30.


Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Michelle Gitkos stands next to her fiancee, Mike Witek, at the West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day program May 30 which honored her cousin 1st Lt. Jeffrey F. DePrimo, who lost his life in Afghanistan on May 20, 2008, as well as all veterans, living and deceased.


Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

EXETER — For Michelle Gitkos, Memorial Day was all about watching the local parade, attending barbecues and enjoying family when she was younger.

Gitkos, of West Pittston, continues to enjoy the annual parade, which was held Monday, May 30. Her uncle, Ron Gitkos, is one of the organizers of the annual Memorial Day parade, which started in West Pittston and ended with a short program at the Wyoming Area Catholic School parking lot in Exeter.

“As a young girl my uncle Ron taught me about the tradition of Memorial Day and every year I help put flags up in honor of the fallen soldiers,” she said.

Ron Gitkos also organizes the annual Vettes for Vets event, a Corvette-only car show that serves as a fundraiser for the West Pittston American Legion.

“Memorial Day meant enjoying the holiday with family, watching the parade with them and cheering all the brave veterans on as they walked side by side in their service attire,” said 23-year-old Michelle Gitkos.

Her perspective on Memorial Day completely changed in 2008. Her cousin, 1st Lt. Jeffrey DePrimo, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman from Pittston, lost his life by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on May 20 of that year. DePrimo was 35 years old.

“After Jeffrey passed, Memorial Day is more personal as well as emotional,” she said. “After losing a family member from sacrificing his life for our country, it changes my views on Memorial Day even more.

“Now when I think of Memorial Day, it’s about my cousin and all the soldiers past and present that fought for our freedom.”

The featured speaker for the ceremony Monday was retired Pennsylvania State Police Cmdr. Carmen Altavilla of Troop P in Wyoming. Altavilla told the crowd that patriotism should be in one’s thoughts 365 days a year.

“You don’t have to be in the military to be a patriot,” he said.

Fifteen-year-old Sophia Swiverski, of Wyoming, was on hand to watch the parade with her family. She said it’s important to think about veterans and fallen soldiers throughout the year and not just on national holidays.

“It’s a day when we remember soldiers that died that served our country,” Swiverski said. “We don’t always think about them (soldiers), sometimes we only think of ourselves and it’s really self-centered. You have to give a day and think about what they did for us, because we don’t realize it, but they do a lot for us and we don’t always do a lot for them.”

Some parade-goers were happy to see the turnout in support of military men and women near and far.

“It’s great to see so many people out for the parade,” Dave Corby, of Harding, said. “I see more and more each year and that’s fantastic to see.”

Frank Onda, 95, of Exeter, travels in the parade in a restored Army Jeep owned by Carmen Falcone during the annual Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 30.
http://psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/web1_Memorial-Day-Parade-1.jpgFrank Onda, 95, of Exeter, travels in the parade in a restored Army Jeep owned by Carmen Falcone during the annual Memorial Day parade on Monday, May 30. Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Andrew Bell, 6, of Wilkes-Barre, dons a patriotic hat as he watches the Memorial Day parade with relatives in Exeter.
http://psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/web1_Memorial-Day-Parade-2.jpgAndrew Bell, 6, of Wilkes-Barre, dons a patriotic hat as he watches the Memorial Day parade with relatives in Exeter. Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Army Staff Sgt. Steve Azocar, center, marches with two veterans, Bill Burke, left, and Ron Faust, all of West Pittston, as they walk in the 2016 West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 30.
http://psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/web1_Memorial-Day-Parade-3.jpgArmy Staff Sgt. Steve Azocar, center, marches with two veterans, Bill Burke, left, and Ron Faust, all of West Pittston, as they walk in the 2016 West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 30. Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Retired Pennsylvania State Police Cmdr. Carmen Altavilla, of Exeter, speaks at the conclusion of the annual West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 30.
http://psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/web1_Memorial-Day-Parade-4.jpgRetired Pennsylvania State Police Cmdr. Carmen Altavilla, of Exeter, speaks at the conclusion of the annual West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 30. Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch

Michelle Gitkos stands next to her fiancee, Mike Witek, at the West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day program May 30 which honored her cousin 1st Lt. Jeffrey F. DePrimo, who lost his life in Afghanistan on May 20, 2008, as well as all veterans, living and deceased.
http://psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/web1_Memorial-Day-Parade-5.jpgMichelle Gitkos stands next to her fiancee, Mike Witek, at the West Pittston/Exeter Memorial Day program May 30 which honored her cousin 1st Lt. Jeffrey F. DePrimo, who lost his life in Afghanistan on May 20, 2008, as well as all veterans, living and deceased. Tony Callaio | For Sunday Dispatch
Veterans, fallen military men and women honored at annual parade

By Tony Callaio

For Sunday Dispatch

Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at sd@psdispatch.com.

Reach the Sunday Dispatch newsroom at 570-655-1418 or by email at sd@psdispatch.com.

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