A large crowd gathered at the south end of Falcon Stadium to witness the groundbreaking Friday morning for a new memorial dedicated to two Fitch class of 1962 graduates. Sgt. James Prommersberger and Lt. Charles Brown were the focus of a tribute to the heroism and their dedication to American values, and will soon have a memorial built to honor them and all Austintown veterans.
The memorial was just an idea last year. When the Fitch class of 1962 held their reunion, Jack Kidd read the names of the classmates from that year. He held Prommersberger and Brown for last and told their story. When he was done, there was not a dry eye in the house. Later that evening, Kidd and several others began talking about honoring the two men who lost their lives in Vietnam.
Earlier this year, Kidd presented the idea for a memorial to the Austintown Board of Education. He exhibited wooden ink pens that classmate Larry Cadman was making and selling to raise money. The pens were made from the wooden gym floor at AMS, the former Fitch High School. The plan took off and the money flowed in. Contractors working on the new school buildings, including Bricklayers Local 8, found out about it and volunteered their time to help build it.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Jack Kidd of the memorial project committee said only veterans would break ground for the new memorial for Sgt. James Prommersberger and Lt. Charles Brown on Friday. Under the command of Lt. Col. John Boccieri, were Roger Grafton, Army veteran and memorial committee member; Chuck Bellstrom, Army veteran and cousin to Prommersberger; John Kokoski, stepfather of Prommersberger and Air Force veteran; Tim Kelty, sophomore principal at Fitch this fall and Army veteran; Steve Ruberto, husband of Karen Ruberto and Army veteran; and Thomas Brown, brother of Charles Brown and Navy veteran.
Also donated to the project were the carved Fitch limestones that were over the entrances to the 1917 school building. The stones will be incorporated into the brick memorial. On top of that was the flag pole from the south end of the former Fitch football field.
"That flagpole is 70 years old," Kidd said. "It was the flagpole that was there when [Prommersberger and Brown] played for the Falcon football team."
The groundbreaking ceremony showcased the plans through a mock-up that was used in the Fourth of July parade. It showed the design of the memorial that will soon take up the southwest corner of the stadium.
A poem was read during the ceremony honoring Sgt. James Prommersberger and Lt. Charles Brown. It was written by Brown's grandson, Brennen Kunka.
The Price of Peace
Peace is a river,
Flowing calm and clear,
Until the storm of war
Then the banks erode
From the rising flood,
And the stormy river
Flows red with blood.
The river grows thirsty,
and the huge storm thrives,
until its thirst is quenched
with good people's lives.
Only then, once satisfied,
is the peace river restored
to the calm, clear water
that it was before.
Peace it will sustain,
And then peace it will reap,
And restoring that peace
Is never free, nor cheap.
Brennen Kunka, 2009
During the ceremony, Kidd presented Prommersberger and Brown's stories of heroism that touched many who were present, including family members.
"These two heroes had character," Kidd said, "and we attribute that to their education at Fitch and the way they were raised here in Austintown."
He said both men were members of the Falcon football team. He told those present on Friday that Prommersberger was 5 feet, 6 inches and weighed 110 pounds when he played for the Falcons. In 1961, he was named to the All Steel Valley first team and was the Fitch MVP for the year.
After graduation he entered the Army and headed for Vietnam. In his final day, he was working with a mine-sweeping operation outside of Saigon when more than 200 enemy soldiers opened up with sniper and mortar fire, Kidd explained. A lot of young American soldiers went down at the beginning of the attack and Prommersberger volunteered to go get the wounded. He carried many back to safety, but on his last rescue, a mortar shell was heard descending. Prommersberger jumped on the body of a wounded soldier and covered him from the shell. Unfortunately, the explosion took his life, but he saved the soldier he had covered with his own body.
Brown's story is just as heroic, Kidd said. He was a platoon leader involved in a perimeter fire fight with 4,000 enemy soldiers. He heard the perimeter was breached and rushed to that area. He saw most of his platoon had fallen, but like he was on the football field, so he lived his life, which included never giving up. He took a machine gun and opened up on the advancing enemy and mowed down 300 before his life was ended. He was the last to fall that day.
"Both these men are Silver Star recipients," Kidd said proudly. "We think they died, not as heroes, but while being heroes."
Following Kidd's speech on Friday, State Sen. Joe Schiavoni delivered proclamations honoring the two Fitch heroes. He presented them to Karen Ruberto, Brown's widow, and to Kristin O'Neill, Prommersberger's daughter.
Lt. Col. John Boccieri was on hand to speak briefly and present Kidd and Cadman with a special flag to use at the memorial. The flag was taken with the crew of a C-130 to Baghdad, Iraq. It carried a special cargo in Secretary of State Colin Powell. In closing his talk, Boccieri said, "It's a promise today that we will not forget."
The first patch of ground was broken by a team of six veterans led by Boccieri. Kidd said he was only going to use veterans, and that is what he got. Manning the shovels were Roger Grafton, Army veteran and memorial committee member; Chuck Bellstrom, Army veteran and cousin to Prommersberger; John Kokoski, stepfather of Prommersberger and Air Force veteran; Tim Kelty, sophomore principal at Fitch this fall and Army veteran; Steve Ruberto, husband of Karen Ruberto and Army veteran; and Thomas Brown, brother of Charles Brown and Navy veteran.
Afterward, Kidd and Cadman both agreed the entire project has been amazing from beginning to now. Everyone who was asked jumped on board to do a part in making the memorial a reality.
Fitch sophomore Principal Tim Kelty said at the end, "These gentlemen gave their last full measure of devotion for their country. I am honored to be here today for them."