Coaldale mural honors service
Depiction of famous flag raising meant to laud all veterans.
November 12, 2007|By Ashley Kosciolek Special to The Morning Call - Freelance
A chill pierced the afternoon air in Coaldale on Sunday as a crowd gathered around the borough's World War II memorial for a mural in honor of Veterans Day.

The mural, which depicts the raising of an American flag by five Marines and a naval corpsman on Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima, recently was completed by resident Susan Frendak at the request of the World War II Committee, which approached her earlier this year to undertake the project.

Frendak, who owns a sign shop in Lansford, said the committee requested a mural to recognize WWII veterans and honor them for their sacrifices, so she chose one of the most symbolic demonstrations of American strength, courage, and unity.

"I thought it represented the ultimate freedom," Frendak said, adding that the mural -- which took her about three months to finish -- was worth the effort, honoring about 7,000 Marines and sailors who gave their lives at Iwo Jima, as well as five Coaldale veterans.

The first to be mentioned Sunday was Marine Capt. Andrew Hedash, who commanded the Marines who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. He later retired as a full colonel.

The next two were Marine Sgt. George Lutchkus, who won the Navy Cross for his heroism at Mount Suribachi and Marine PFC Johnnie Katchak, who was the first Marine killed on Wake Island.

Marine Col. Bob Stoffey, who flew 440 combat missions in Vietnam and was shot down twice, was also recognized.

Finally, Sgt. Walter Bortnik, who flew a plane from Japan to Guam with two destroyed engines -- twice -- was honored Sunday.

Spanning an 8-foot-by-12-foot section of one of the borough building's walls behind the WWII memorial, the mural was unveiled by WWII veterans John King and Steve Tentylo, who is also president of the WWII Committee.

After the presentation, the mural was blessed by the Rev. Daniel Mathewson of St. Mary's Orthodox Church of Coaldale.

Taps was played by Robert Kistler -- a member of Bugles Across America -- and a rifle salute was given for those who sacrificed their lives for America's freedom, including 51 soldiers from Coaldale who master of ceremonies and Korean War veteran William Gaddes said perished in WWII.

"I think that what people should take away is exactly what it says there on the mural," Gaddes said, referring to the inscription under the painting that reads, "In honor of all those who served."

Ashley Kosciolek is a freelance writer.