MERCER – Tradition demands the display of 500 American flags along Pitt and West Venango streets each year for the Mercer Memorial Day 500.
Those flags what gives the event its name. But they mean so much more than that, said event organizer Aaron Sines.
“It gives you chills to see the flags,” Sines said. It’s an amazing experience.”
Mercer will celebrate the 17th annual Memorial Day 500 Monday outside the Mercer County Courthouse.
The ceremony honoring the veterans begins at 9:30 a.m. Following a second ceremony at the old Mercer Graveyard at 10:30, a parade will proceed down Pitt Street at 11 a.m. with a final ceremony at noon in Citizens Cemetery.
In keeping with the event’s tradition, organizers have selected veterans — three living and one deceased — to recognize during the event. This year’s living honorees are Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Thorn, a Mercer High School graduate, Master Sgt. Joseph DePuy, a West Middlesex native who served in the Army and Marines, and Army Sgt. Maj. Terrance Bolger of West Middlesex.
The deceased honoree is World War II and Korean War Army veteran John Krofcheck.
Krofcheck, an Army infantryman, was wounded during fierce combat in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France during the final year of World War II, when he fell into a crater left by a shell blast.
Despite sustaining a serious leg injury, he proceeded onward carrying his Browning automatic rifle and ammunition.
Krofcheck, who also had two stints in the military police, helped establish a National Guard unit in Sharon and served as its first sergeant. He died in 2013.
Thorn, a 1961 Mercer High School graduate, was a command pilot and senior staff officer in the Air Force, and served for two decades, from 1966 to 1986.
Thorn, who now lives in Wilmington, N.C., flew 239 combat missions in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Among his numerous awards were three Meritorious Service Medals and five Distinguished Flying Crosses.
DePuy, who served in both the Army and Marines, was in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1990-91 and Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005-06.
His awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, multiple Army commendations, Global War on Terrorism Medal and a National Defense Service Medal with 2 bronze service stars.
Terrance Bolger of West Middlesex also served in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm and Desert Shield in 1990-91, as well as Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-05.
His awards include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal with 3 bronze service stars. Now an Army reservist, Bolger is a member of the Wheatland American Legion/West Middlesex VFW Honor Guard.
While the Memorial Day 500 honors a selection of veterans every year, Sines said the event commemorates everyone who has served, particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“We pay homage and respect to those gave everything,” he said.
Sines pointed out the parade includes a float reserved for those who served in the military.
“We welcome any and all veterans,” he said.
The float is open to veterans, but Sines said he also welcomes, and hopes for, a strong turnout by residents in the audience.
“It would be awesome to see the courthouse lawn packed in the morning,” he said.
The event begins at 8 a.m. with a breakfast for veterans at the Mercer American Legion Post 159 and registration for the annual 5K race, which starts at 8:30 a.m. outside the Mercer borough building on North Pitt Street.
Country music singer Chris Higbee will perform acoustic concerts at 9 and 10 a.m.