WWII veteran remembers parade origins

Al Hess, a World War II veteran and ‘Restoration Committee’ member, still serves other veterans as adjutant of the Montandon American Legion Post 841.

Editor’s note: Marshals for the upcoming 25th Union County Veterans’ 4th of July Parade will include early committee members. Meantime, The Standard-Journal will feature stories on the men and women of the parade’s founding. Though not all served a committee, they were indeed there at the start.

MONTANDON — Lewisburg’s Al Hess was on one of the committees which mounted the effort to restore the Civil War memorial.

Hess, a life-long Lewisburg resident and World War II veteran, said the Restoration Committee consisted of himself and six other people. Hess and early committee members Nada Gray, Graham Showalter, Al Hess, and Henry Halverson will be honored as parade marshals in 2019. Descendants of the late Bob Benfer, Thomas Kreamer and Alfred Byrd will also be honored.

Once commander of the Lewisburg VFW Post 1964, Hess made a promise to do his best to make sure the monument at South Third Street and University Avenue would be returned to condition worthy of what it represents.

“I knew so much about them,” he said. “There was no fence around then, you know. We played at the cannon.”

Hess recalled damage done to the monument was evident, notably to the copper figures of a soldier and sailor. They were hidden for safer keeping.

“It was shameful as to what happened to them,” he said of the statues. “They were up under the courthouse steps for years. What a mess, but we got them out.”

A restoration company in the Lancaster area did the work of restoring the statuary. The feet of the soldier and sailor were what required the most attention as whoever did the vandalism could only bend them. A group of four committee members visited the company and got what Hess called a royal tour.

The annual parade has morphed into a salute to veterans. Hess, adjutant for the Montandon American Legion Post 841, said he would hate to see anything happen to the annual event.

“I know it takes a lot of volunteers,” he said. “I know it takes a bushel basket of money every year. We’ve had an excellent parade from the beginning right up until now. This year is not going to be any different, I’m sure.”

But the point, Hess maintained, was that it was too easy for the citizenry to forget the sacrifices made by men and women in the services.

“Unfortunately, we have to keep reminding the people that we have veterans and what they did,” Hess said.

Programs to remind people of what veterans have gone through were satisfying and important.

“The parade is worth every dollar that we put into it,” Hess said. “By the size of the crowds we get, I’m sure everybody feels the same way. It’s just amazing.”

Hess said he still marvels at the number of people who stand on the streets of the borough to enjoy the parade as it passes.

Hess’s service in WWII included sailing from Murmansk, Soviet Union into U-boat territory in 1944.

“Those U-boats were absolutely terrible,” Hess said. “They were known as Wolf Packs.”

He added that U-boats were expected shortly after leaving Murmansk but the most dangerous seas turned out to be near Iceland.

Visit www.unioncountyveterans4thofjuly.com, call 844-VETSDAY or email info@unioncountyveterans4thofjuly.com for more information about the 25th annual parade and related events. The parade is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 29 on the streets of Lewisburg with a day and evening full of events to follow.

Staff Writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at matt@standard-journal.com.

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