Kent County veterans Memorial Day ceremony commemorates those lost in war

By Matt McDonald
Posted 5/31/22

DOVER — Kent County residents honored those who died in military battle Monday in a ceremony that featured an emotional speech by a keynote speaker who flew medical evacuation missions in the …

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Kent County veterans Memorial Day ceremony commemorates those lost in war

Posted

DOVER — Kent County residents honored those who died in military battle Monday in a ceremony that featured an emotional speech by a keynote speaker who flew medical evacuation missions in the Vietnam War.

More than 100 people gathered around the brick plaza at the Kent County Veterans Memorial Park for the Memorial Day event, hosted by the county’s chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Those in attendance included a World War II veteran, Gold Star families — loved ones of those who died while serving their country in the military — and state and local officials.

John Sabanosh, a retired police officer who served as a helicopter pilot evacuating casualties in the Vietnam War, urged those in attendance to always keep in mind that soldiers — including those who gave their lives defending their country — are people like anyone else. Mr. Sabanosh paused at times, his voice breaking with emotion as he addressed Gold Star families around him.

“This is a tough day for many veterans. Our minds, especially, take us to places we’ve been, places we mentally don’t want to go back to — the memories,” Mr. Sabanosh said. “We must honor their commitment and remember them as people like us. We must teach everyone the meaning of freedom and the cost and honor of those who paid for it … There is no honor so great than to surrender one’s life, one’s future, one’s well-being, for his or her country.”

He asked attendees to turn to the UH-1 helicopter, with a painted red cross on a white square, that has been mounted in the park for almost a decade now. “That was my office,” he said, where he worked as a part of a “Dustoff” crew — a term derived from the dirt whipped into the air up by helicopters.

Dustoff crew members were soldiers who volunteered to plunge into active combat zones to rescue wounded fighters. While any crew member could turn down a mission, Mr. Sabanosh never saw that happen. The missions were dangerous; many evacuation crew members became casualties themselves.

“I don’t like to think of myself as a hero, however. I was privileged to have served with many,” he said.

A bell chimed for the name of each Kent County soldier who died in Vietnam, Korea or the Middle East. Wreathes were laid down around the granite memorials honoring the fallen and their families.

Mary Jo Burkot watched as a new brick was unveiled with the name of her brother, John McNaney Jr., a former PGA Tour golfer who served in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corps. He was supposed to be at the unveiling Monday. He died in March.

“When you guys and gals go home and start cooking, and everything smells good … please stop for a minute, or two, or even three if you want to. Say a nice prayer for the men and women that give their life, and the ones that are fighting for us today,” said Dave Skocik, president of Delaware Veterans Coalition and emcee for the event.

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