Labor of love

With a 20-by-30 foot U.S. flag blowing in the background, Mike Longenberger stands near the Milton Veterans Tribute and Memorial Park, which he volunteers his time to maintain.

MILTON — With a 20-by-30 foot U.S. flag blowing in the wind from atop a 90-foot flag pole, Mike Longenberger walked along a brick walkway under the flag, proudly pointing to one of the latest bricks installed in the walkway.

Longenberger has volunteered to maintain Milton’s Veterans Tribute and Memorial Park since it was established by The Improved Milton Experience (TIME) in 2005.

In addition to the giant flag, the park features a walkway containing 1,146 bricks purchased by community members in honor or memory of their friends and family serving or who have served in the military.

“Last year, I put my grandson’s brick in,” Longenberger said. “He’s in the Marine Corps. That was one of his gifts for Christmas.”

Longenberger said his grandson, Tyler Sokolas, appreciated the gift. He is currently stationed in California and deployed to the Middle East.

Longenberger served in the Army National Guard for 22 years.

He noted that the bricks cost $60 each, the same price they were when the walkway was established.

“We have contributors each year... to the veterans’ site,” Longenberger said. “That helps offset some of the costs.”

When the walkway was first established, 560 bricks were purchased by community members. About 25 to 30 bricks are still purchased by each year.

“If you have family members serving in the military now, I would love you to get a brick for them,” Longenberger said, adding that bricks can be purchased in honor of an individual regardless of their hometown.

He noted that an individual living in Alaska once placed an order for a brick in honor of someone who once lived in Central Pennsylvania.

Nearly every day, Longenberger sees people reading the names on the bricks that have already been purchased.

Once bricks are purchased, they are generally placed along the walkway in no particular order.

“When somebody comes (to the walkway), they have to look (at all the bricks),” Longenberger said. “They see so many veterans and so many people that they know or knew over the years.

“To go through the whole walkway, they get a chance to see all the veterans, not just their family members (who are honored with bricks).”

While bricks honoring his own family members are special to Longenberger, he also holds a brick honoring Ray Ulrich near and dear to his heart.

Longenberger and Ulrich were members of the Milton Area High School Class of 1967. In 1969, Ulrich was killed while serving in Vietnam.

During a 2012 class reunion, Longenberger asked class members to consider donating funds to purchase a flag and brick in memory of Ulrich.

“We got a tremendous amount of donations,” Longenberger said.

A special dedication ceremony for the flag and brick were held.

“There was 100 people here (for the ceremony), or more,” Longenberger said. “That was one of the greatest things we were able to do, to honor our veteran, our classmate.”

While the purchase of bricks and donations to the cause assist with the maintenance of the site, much of the cost goes to maintaining the U.S. flag which flies over head.

George Venios, TIME executive director, said the flag must be replaced every six to eight months due to wear and tear.

The flags cost $750 to replace.

Brick order forms are available at the site, located next to the Milton Moose Family Center on South Front Street. Forms are also available online, at visitmiltonpa.org.

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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