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Memory of Ripley resident prompts creation of Vietnam veterans tribute

September 2, 2017
By Kim Lux - , Westfield Republican

SPARTANSBURG, Pa. - Twenty-five fallen heroes who lost their lives during the Vietnam War will be honored at the upcoming Spartansburg Community Fair parade on Saturday, Sept. 9, through a special float.

Blain Blakeslee, of Union City, and his daughter, Charity Albrecht, have spent almost a year creating a float that will pay tribute to several men from the Corry and Union City areas.

"At the young age of 7, I attended my first funeral," Blakeslee recalled. "It was for my cousin Gerald, 'Jerry,' Carr who was killed in Vietnam and left behind a young, pregnant wife. The sorrow I witnessed that day made an enormous impact on me and I haven't forgotten it almost 50 years later.

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A float honoring 25 local veterans who died while serving in the Vietnam War will be on display during the Spartansburg Community Fair parade on Sept. 9.

"My daughter and I decided to build a float in memory of Jerry, and during the process we felt it wouldn't be right not to include all the other local heroes who died during the war," he added.

Blakeslee and Albrecht spent several hours researching fallen Vietnam veterans who resided in the local area.

In addition to Carr, who was from North East and lived in Ripley when he left for Vietnam, those being honored include the late Colin Nichols, of Spartansburg; Monte Gates, of Corry; George Tinko, of Corry; Leroy Fladry, of Union City; Danny Flanders, of Waterford; James Galkowski, of Wattsburg; James Zboyovski, of Wattsburg; and many others from the surrounding area.

"Of the more than 3,000 Pennsylvania men who died during the war, we had to draw the line at what we considered local," Blakeslee said. "We drew our small circle around the local small towns spanning from North East, to Guys Mills, to the Titusville area. We feel that people from small towns are often overlooked, so we really wanted to highlight them."

The float features a giant faux-stone wall listing the names of the 25 honored veterans in the background. At the foreground, Blakeslee and Albrecht have built a tombstone with a widow and young child kneeling next to it. Behind the pair, is the ghost of a soldier.

"I asked Keith Peterson of Eagle Specialized Professional Foaming Co., in Union City, to spray the entire thing in fake snow to give it a winter look," Blakeslee said. "Keith donated his time for free and was happy to help with this endeavor."

As the float makes its way along the parade route, onlookers will hear "Amazing Grace" being played on the bagpipes.

"When the music starts, that's when we expect the tears," Blakeslee said. "That song just renders such an emotional response from people."

Blakeslee and Albrecht have also invited family members of some of the fallen veterans to lay a memorial rose on the float as it passes by.

"Colin Nichols' family still lives in Spartansburg," Blakeslee said. "His mother, daughter and granddaughter have expressed interest in coming to see the float. We've asked them to lay some flowers on the float in memoriam of all those who lost their lives."

Rhonda Hopkins, Nichols' daughter, said she is eager to see the finished float and participate in the special memorial.

"I'm very excited about all of this," Hopkins said. "Our family is so honored that Mr. Blakeslee has taken the initiative to do this. We are very happy to be a part of it as well."

The float will make its debut at 11 a.m., on Sept. 9, during the Spartansburg Community Fair parade.

"We have asked the fair board not to judge our float, because it isn't about winning prizes or trophies," Blakeslee said. "It is about honoring these amazing heroes and their families."

For those who miss the Spartansburg parade, the float will also be on display during the Union City Homecoming Parade on Saturday, Oct. 7.

"We're very excited about this project and we're so happy to finally share it with the community," Blakeslee said.

Reprinted with permission from The Corry Journal



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