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.”
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