The first Northampton Township board of supervisors meeting for 2020 was, to sum it up in one word, bittersweet.
On the evening of Jan. 6, community members, veterans and elected officials convened at the Administration Building, 55 Township Road, Richboro, to welcome home Coast Guard Seaman Robert “Bobby” Hayes from his deployment to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. In the midst of the celebration, the township also singled out another resident, Army Maj. Jon Pavlovcak, who deployed to Guantanamo Bay on Sept. 19.
Both men were honored as part of the Northampton Patriots Flag Program, which was launched by the supervisors in April 2003 to recognize locals serving overseas in hostile areas, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
When a patriot is deployed, loved ones place a flag bearing their name and branch of service in a large display. It remains there until their safe return to the states. At that time, the patriot is gifted with their military flag, and an American one replaces it in the display.
“After tonight, there will be 92 total flags, with two of them an armed services flag that will be awaiting return to its representative,” explained program coordinator and former supervisor Pete Palestina.
First, Palestina called to the floor Jeff and Tracy McKinnon, friends of Hayes. Since his family moved from Churchville to Syracuse, New York several months ago and could not be at the meeting personally, the McKinnons were present to retrieve his Coast Guard flag and replace it in the display with his U.S. one.
Hayes deployed to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf in November 2018 and returned stateside on Nov. 30, 2019. Tracy read a letter written by his parents Mickey and Mary Jo, who chronicled their son’s unprecedented appearance last month.
“Bobby walked through the kitchen door, surprising us at Sunday family dinner on Dec. 1, 2019. To say that we were happy to see him would be an understatement,” she read.
The McKinnons also shared with attendees a commendation from Hayes’ commander, who praised him for having the courage, talent and maturity often witnessed in individuals with higher ranks.
Additionally, several words were said by Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick’s veterans advocate Peter Chong, Sen. Tommy Tomlinson’s staffer Nick Diasio and Rep. Wendi Thomas, all of whom presented the McKinnons with flags and/or citations. Thomas thanked Palestina for his efforts in keeping the unique Flag Program thriving.
“I talked to the other 200 state reps,” she said. “Nobody else goes home to a ceremony like we have here.”
After the welcome home ceremony, Pavlovcak’s wife Karen, and children Kate and Jack were called to the floor for his flag placement ceremony. The trio carefully placed his personalized Army flag in the display, where it will stay until he returns from his deployment to exchange it.
“This is really touching. We can’t wait until Jon is home and we can be on that side of it,” said Karen, pointing to the McKinnons. “This is really, really special.”
Newly appointed supervisors chairman Adam Selisker let the Pavlovcaks know that the entire township is supporting them during this stressful time.
“This is a really great tradition, and you should know that you have a whole community behind you while he’s gone,” he said. “As proud as we are of him for doing what he does, we’re proud of the family for what you do because you make a lot of sacrifices as well.”
He encouraged Northampton residents to let the board know of any other local patriots currently deployed or about to deploy so that they can be honored.
“The world events are changing right now, and there’s a possibility of more military folks deploying,” he said.
Palestina closed out the dual ceremony with a final statement.
“As has been documented so often nowadays, those that serve our country in the military are at risk whether they are on U.S. soil or foreign soil as evidenced by what took place last week in Bagdad with our embassy and at the airport. Their lives are put on the line each and every day,” he said. “Northampton and our country are proud of what our military are doing for the freedoms we enjoy here at home.” ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org