SPRINGFIELD — Just a few days after Delaware County held the largest Veterans Day Parade in Pennsylvania, the county’s active and retired military came together and were honored again, this time at the Sixth Annual Delaware County Freedom Medal Award Dinner.
In what was said to be the largest attendance to date, well over 600 people packed the Springfield Country Club on Nov. 14 to pay tribute and show heartfelt appreciation to all those who are serving and all those who have served.
Six veterans who continue to serve their communities in a variety of honorable and commendable ways were recognized and awarded the 2019 Freedom Medals. The Freedom Medal annual dinner and awards ceremony, a partnership of the Delaware County Veterans Memorial Association and Delaware County Council, not only honors local veterans but also raises funds to support educational programs that ensure future generations know about America’s military history and soldiers’ sacrifices.
This year’s Freedom Medal awardees for Dedication to Our Country include Shakur Abdul-Ali, U. S. Army veteran; Jeffrey Hill, U.S. Army veteran; Colonel Jeffery Jahnke, U.S. Army veteran; Patrick J. Hughes, U.S. Marine Corps veteran; and Raymond Stankus, U.S. Army veteran. The Freedom Medal award for Dedication to Our Country and Education was awarded by Kathleen Breslin, memorial association education chair, to Stephanie Farmer, U.S. Air Force veteran and assistant vice principal of Tinicum School.
Farmer, who served as a U.S. customs officer, continues to inspire patriotism in the students of Interboro School District, through participation in special patriotic events and participation in the Delaware County Veterans Memorial Education Program.
Following a cocktail hour, the evening included dinner and a program, focused on a “Lest We Forget” theme, emceed by Sue Serio, Fox 29 weather anchor, Springfield Police Chief Joseph Daly, president of the Delaware County Veterans Memorial Association, and John McBlain, chairman of Delaware County Council.
The Freedom Medal President’s Award for Dedication to Our Country and Community was awarded to Wawa and the Freedom Medal President’s award was awarded to Springfield Country Club and accepted by Pat Burns, owner. Springfield Country Club has hosted the annual Freedom Medal Dinner since its inaugural event six years prior. The Wawa Foundation supports the Delaware County Veterans Memorial, sends Taste of Home care packages to military deployed overseas and lends support in many other ways to all branches of the military.
Past association president Guy Fizzano presented the President’s Volunteer Service Award to Springfield High School senior Joshua Welsh. The prestigious President’s Volunteer Service Award is given by the president of the United States to qualifying volunteers whose service positively impacts their community and inspires others to do the same. Joshua volunteered over 100 hours, doing work on an important historical preservation project that will enable students and visitors to the Delaware County Veterans Memorial to expand their knowledge and appreciation of military history and heroism.
In addition to the Freedom Medals, the honorees, who are all highly decorated with many awards and commendations earned throughout their years of military service and service to the community, were given a Senate citation by state Sen. Tim Kearney, D-26 of Swarthmore. Special words of gratitude and inspiration were offered by Claude de Botton, founding member of the memorial association and memorial land donor, and former Freedom Medal awardee and association board member Ralph Galati, U.S. Air Force, who led a moment of silence.
Serio noted the night would not have been possible without the vision of the late Linda Houldin, one of the original founders of the Delaware County Veterans Memorial.
“It is impossible to not feel Linda’s presence,” Serio, who was master of ceremony for six years, said fondly, acknowledging the presence of Houldin’s family. “I feel it every time I am at the Memorial and I feel it in this room tonight.”
Other participants in this year’s ceremony included the Smedley D. Butler Det. 741, Vietnam Veterans of America who served as Color Guard, Carolyn Hilton-Finney who sang “God Bless America,” the Tinicum School Chorus and the Springfield High School Marching Band who led the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, Martin Holahan and Emil Pilacik who played Taps, and Rev. James Kelly of St. Pius X who led the opening prayer.
Daly said the medal honorees were chosen, not just for their exemplary military service, but because of their continued service to the community. Each Freedom Medal recipient was called to the stage and a short film about their service, in the military and in the community, was shown on several gigantic screens in the ballroom, followed by the awarding of the medal.
Shakur Abdul-Ali of Chester enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1982 and went on to serve nearly three decades on active duty and in the Army Reserves, retiring in 2011. His tour of duty and training took him all over the world, from South Korea and Iraq to Uganda and Egypt. Abdul-Ali, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2011, is a founding member of the Islamic Center of Chester and a member of the Imams staff. He is on the Board of Directors for the Chapel of the Four Chaplains and Men and Women for Human Excellence Inc. for Drug, Alcohol and Mental Health. Nominated for the Freedom Medal by the City of Chester, he also participates in the Army Chaplain Corp Regimental Association, the Military Chaplain Association, the Chester Police Chaplains Corp, the Law Enforcement Chaplains of Delaware County, and First Responders chaplain, Philadelphia Navy Yard. Abdul-Ali is an active member of the Veterans Resource Center in Chester, the Muslim American Veterans Association, and the Disabled American Veterans.
Jeffery Hill, U.S. Army veteran, enlisted in 1970, and after extensive training was assigned with Company A, 315th Infantry, where he achieved the rank of staff sergeant. In 1976, he was transferred to the 103rd Engineer Battalion PA National Guard. Having moved from the Battalion’s A company into E Company, Hill was promoted to Platoon Sergeant in charge of the Armored Vehicle Launcher Bridge Platoon. He then was promoted to First Sergeant of Headquarters Company and graduated from the First Sergeants Course at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. In 2004 Hill achieved the rank of Command Sergeant Major, graduating from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy in Texas. Three years later, he was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait with the 213th Area Support Group. He served overseas as Task Force Sergeant Major at the Ali Al Salem Airbase in Kuwait and as Lay Leader for the Jewish personnel on base and in transition through Kuwait. He retired from the Army in 2008. Since retirement, Hill has actively supported the 103rd Engineer Battalion and is the past commander of the Veteran Corps and Artillery Corps Washington Grays. He is currently serving as Commander of the Shandler-Pancus Post 305 of the Jewish War Veterans of the US for Delaware County and is an active member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Military Order of Foreign Wars.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Patrick Hughes enlisted in 1966, going straight to Vietnam following boot camp. Upon returning home, Hughes went to work at the Evening Bulletin as a printer until it closed. He then turned his hobby of photography into a lifelong career.
Hughes began working closely with Gold Star Mothers; his images featured hundreds of times in Gold Star Mothers monthly magazine. Hughes is an active member of Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, a member of the VFW, American Legion and Irish Veterans organizations, as well as the Rolling Thunder motorcycle club and Bikers Against Child Abuse. Every year, Hughes takes the trip from Maine to Arlington with Wreaths Across America, and photographs the official ceremony.
Hughes has done extensive community service with the Detachment #884 in Upper Darby, the Chadds Ford Vietnam War memorial, and the peer support group “Combat Mind to Civilian Mind.”
"I try to live every day like a Vietnam Veteran, following the two things I was taught way back in basic training," Hughes stated. "We were told to never quit and never forget."
Jeffery Jahnke attended Widener University in the Army ROTC program, graduating in 1985 as a Distinguished Military graduate. After graduation, Jahnke trained at Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Benning, Ga., before being assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 70th Armor regiment, 5th Infantry Division at Fort Polk, Louisiana. In 1989, he was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 70th Armor regiment, 2nd Iron Brigade at Ferris Barracks, Erlangen, Germany. His battalion was sent to Saudi Arabia in 1990, on the Iraq border, where he served in all three operational campaigns of the first Gulf War.
After almost 11 years of service, Jahnke left active duty in 1996, and joined the Pennsylvania National Guard, and in 2010, transferred to the Army Reserve. He and his unit had the important mission of training and evaluating battalion and brigade level staff on performing Mission Command as part of their preparation for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. When he retired from the military in 2015, Jahnke had served in all three components of the U.S. Army — Active Duty, National Guard and the Army Reserve.
U.S. Army veteran Raymond Stankus joined the Army ROTC at Drexel Institute of Technology. After graduation and basic training, Stankus was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, and later after more training, was stationed at Fort Ord, Calif., where he served as a Basic Training Officer. Sent to Vietnam, Stankus was assigned as a rifle platoon leader of the 1st platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 403rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airbourne Brigade. The all-volunteer paratrooper unit, operating in the central highlands, was known as Westmoreland’s Bucket Brigade because General William Westmoreland would assign one of the 173rd units to rescue American forces.
Stankus, along with several other Vietnam vets, established Philadelphia Stand Down, a homeless veterans’ assistance and outreach program, in 1994. Stankus also serves as a director and Honor Guard commander at Chapter 67, Vietnam Veterans of America, Delaware County, where he participates in their education program, teaching high school students about the Vietnam War. He was also an adviser to the Pennsylvania Veterans Museum in Media when they were creating the Vietnam War exhibit. Stankus is an active member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club and the American Legion.
Delaware County is home to 35,000 veterans who have served the nation in all branches of the military, at home and on foreign soil. In 2013, the Delaware County Veterans Memorial in Newtown Square was built as a tribute to the men and women across Delaware County who have served in the United States military.
“Not a single tax payer’s dollar goes into this memorial,” Daly stated. “Our support comes from private donations.”
The memorial serves as a place to learn about the wars and conflicts in U.S. history, a place to reflect upon the bravery and sacrifice of local Veterans and a place to honor those who have served to defend our rights and protect our freedom.
In September 2019 the Delaware County Veterans Memorial Association unveiled a POW/MIA Wall next to the memorial. It serves as another place for residents to learn about military history and pay tribute to the brave men and women who were prisoners of war or remain missing in action. An empty seat at the wall serves as a constant reminder of the sacrifices made for our country by these American servicemen and women. A symbolic empty POW table was placed at the corner of the stage in the Springfield Country Club Ballroom on Thursday night, in recognition and honor of all missing and deceased veterans.
For more information on the Delaware County Veterans Memorial and this year’s 2019 Freedom Medal winners, visit www.delcoveteransmemorial.org.