If you want to remember our nation’s veterans this Veterans Day, simply take a ride through some Greater Pittston communities — their pictures adorn the streets of Avoca, Dupont and Duryea.
Hometown Hero banners are familiar to many area residents since they can be found in several communities in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. The tributes are a recent addition to Avoca, with the banners going up in October and the project being completed in time for Veterans Day. A Veterans Day service planned at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, at Avoca Veterans of Foreign Wars Post will recognize the project’s organizers and volunteers.
For Holly Homschek, who spearheaded the effort, the project started as a way to remember two veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“We were thinking of doing them (the banners) because there were two guys, (Michael Clifford and Daniel Romanko), who were killed in action that my mother talked about all the time,” Homschek explained. While the men were killed before Homscheck was even born, their stories of sacrifice made her want to do something to honor them and all those who serve.
She teamed up with Avoca borough secretary Kelly O’Brien and the project took off from there.
“We decided to raise money from the St. Patrick’s Day party that we had at the West Side Social Club to pay for banners for those men who were killed so their families did not have to,” she explained. The families of the two men, who were both killed in Vietnam, had first choice as to where their banners would go. The Romanko family had Daniel’s banner placed by their old homestead on St. Mary Street. Clifford’s banner is located near the Avoca Convenient Market, at School and Main streets, near where he grew up.
Families of Avoca’s veterans and those still serving quickly took up the banner, so to speak, and honored their loved ones in stunning numbers. One hundred seventy eight banners have been hung in Avoca and there is a waiting list started if there is a second round.
Initially the banners were only going to be placed on Avoca’s main streets, but due to the overwhelming response, they were added to side streets near where those honored lived and several poles hold more than one banner.
“I have no main road poles left,” Homschek said.
The 27-by-20-inch banners include a picture of the service member in uniform, along with their branch of service, time of service, and who sponsored the banner. A ribbon or patch depicting the branch of service or unit was used when a photo was unavailable.
“It is an honor to have my brother remembered after all these years,” said Rick Romanko, of Hughestown. “I’m very grateful for all the work everyone put into this program to honor our veterans and everyone that sacrificed their lives for our country.” His brother, Daniel, was killed just nine days into his tour in Vietnam.
Mary Kay Tempesta, of Dunmore, said it is an honor to see her brother, Michael Clifford, on a banner in his uniform.
Tempesta was just a child when her 21-year-old brother was killed in action while serving in the Navy.
“I was 9 when he left. I remember my parents were so happy to see him when he came home. I was just in awe when he came home in his uniform.” Tempesta said. “He used to let us put on his hat, I always thought that was pretty neat.”
Dupont was the first of the Greater Pittston communities to hang the Hometown Hero banners and has nearly 90 banners displayed around town. The Dupont Lions Club began the program in 2013 and has had three campaigns to solicit new banners over the past five years. Banners are hung throughout Dupont, from the Avoca boarder to the Pittston Twp. border on Main, Ziegler and Chestnut streets.
The project coordinators said the banners are sentimental for residents. It is a way to give back to those who served.
“They served our country and continue to serve. It’s important to honor the service that they gave to not only our town but also to our entire country,” said Dupont Lion Bob Price, who helps carry on the program started by the club before he was a member.
“Many of them died in wars and many of them served in wars,” Price said of the veterans’ service. “It is important to keep their memory alive.”
Duryea also had a positive response when the Duryea Lions Club and the Duryea Betterment Committee initiated the project in 2017. Approximately 60 banners line Main Street and about a dozen are hung on Foote Avenue, with a few others scattered through town. Calls to Duryea Borough about the project there were directed to the project’s coordinator, who did not immediately return messages.
Editor Patti Houston contributed to this story.