The Lawncrest Community Association celebrated Veterans Day on Sunday morning with a ceremony in the grove at Lawncrest Recreation Center.
The grove features stone memorials to veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
About 60 volunteers removed 74 bags of leaves and other debris the day before the fourth annual ceremony.
Municipal Court Judge Pat Dugan, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the crowd that all war and peacetime veterans deserve equal respect. When they signed up, he noted, most didn’t know whether they’d be serving in Fallujah or Fort Dix, Somalia or San Diego.
Suicide rates are high among veterans, Dugan said, adding that he thinks all combat veterans are different when they come back. Some can handle the burden, others struggle with it.
Dugan presides over the city’s Veterans Court, dealing with vets who have found themselves in the criminal justice system. He tries to point them to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and services — medical, educational, etc. — to put them on the path to becoming productive citizens.
Data shows that Veterans Court has helped lower the recidivism rate.
Dugan recalled how there were parades for returning World War II veterans.
As for veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars, Dugan gave them special recognition during his remarks, contending that they were largely ignored after coming home.
Today, Dugan is buoyed when he sees or hears of Americans hugging Iraq and Afghanistan war vets in airports and offering to buy them a drink or a meal.
“God bless America,” he said.
The ceremony was organized by Kathy Wersinger, a neighborhood resident and aide to City Councilwoman Marian Tasco.
Councilman David Oh read a resolution he co-sponsored with Tasco, presenting it to Cliff Jeffries, head of the United Veterans Council of Philadelphia. A bagpiper played military hymns and patriotic music.
The day also included an American flag raising, wreath layings, prayer, a poem and an empty table, symbolizing Prisoners of War/Missing in Action.
NiLiza Johnson, a fifth-grader at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, read her winning essay. The contest asked students to write on the subject, “Are You Proud of Your Country?” Other winners were Julia Chiango and Kylie Gibson, of Tacony Academy Charter High School. ••