Maj. Thomas Matthews has countless memories, both good and bad, from his 40-plus years in the U.S. Army. But one in particular will forever remain at the forefront of his mind.
While standing in uniform on a street corner in Sarajevo, an elderly woman spotted the American flag emblazoned on his sleeve. Upon approaching Matthews, she fell to the ground in front of him, wrapping her arms tightly around his legs. She thanked him and his fellow Americans for “stopping the killing and the dying.”
Matthews recounted this encounter on May 31 during Northampton Township’s annual Memorial Day ceremony, held at the Robert H. Dembowski Jr. Veterans Memorial Park in Richboro.
“Only the American military and our remarkable service members were willing to go to deliver safety, hope and a return to normality,” he said. “They who we honor on Memorial Day. They who replaced the killing and dying around the world with peace. Millions are alive because of them.”
However, many of these brave men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice while doing so. Matthews stressed that remembering these soldiers – not barbecues and pool parties – is the prime purpose of Memorial Day.
“Those we honor stood their watch. They did their duty,” he said. “As long as the American flag flies over the land of the free, as long as there is but one person still standing in your community, there will always be a Memorial Day.”
In addition to honoring the service members who lost their lives in the line of duty, Matthews paid homage to their loved ones, known as Gold Star families.
“I always felt that the Army gets it wrong when it comes to awards and honors,” he said. “The families are the ones who earn the medals and we are the ones who get to wear them.”
A moment of silence was taken for the local Gold Star families of Army PFC Bobby Dembowski Jr. and Army Master Sgt. Ken Elwell. These Northampton soldiers were killed in action on May 24, 2007, and July 17, 2011, respectively.
“In this community, it’s personal. You know the names,” said Matthews. “You know their families. You are their friends. You are their neighbors. You are here to show that you care for the Gold Star families in your community.”
Present at the ceremony were Northampton supervisors Adam Selisker, Eileen Silver, Kim Rose and Frank O’Donnell. All were thrilled to have township residents convene for the solemn tradition, which they were forced to host virtually last year due to COVID-19. Following updated guidance from the CDC, masks and social distancing were optional.
“We have not been together in person for almost 14 months. Fourteen long months,” said Selisker. “I could not think of a better reason than Memorial Day to gather as a community and I’m thankful we can do it.”
The day began at 8 a.m. with a flag lowering and raising at the veterans memorial, located in front of the seven flag poles of the Northampton Township building, 55 Township Road in Richboro. Along with the pole holding the U.S. flag, there are six others bearing a flag for each branch of the military – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. This ceremony was conducted by the Marine Corps League’s Patriot Detachment.
Attendees then shifted to the Robert H. Dembowski Jr. Veterans Memorial Park, named in memory of Dembowski, where the main ceremony commenced at 9 a.m. The national anthem was sung, there was a presentation of colors, and the Demobowski family led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. A special POW/MIA remembrance table was also set up.
“No word or any combination of words could do justice to those we honor today,” Matthews said at the conclusion of the event. “Memorial Day is not about the speech or the speaker. It is not about what is on the speaker’s lips. It’s about what’s in the hearts of those present, the unspoken, powerful words from your presence here. It is about the thoughts, prayers, comfort, love, appreciation and respect you demonstrate for those we honor and their Gold Star families.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com