NORTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP >> Northampton Township ushered in the new decade on January 6 with a Welcome Home flag exchange and a deployment flag placement ceremony.

During the special flag exchange held inside the township’s meeting room, Coast Guard Seaman Robert Hayes was welcomed home from his deployment to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and Army Major Jon Pavlovcak was recognized for serving his country overseas.

The Patriots Flag Program began 17 years ago on April 23, 2003 when the Board of Supervisors adopted it as a way of honoring Northampton residents serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Back then we knew of 24 such residents, and as of today, due to our expansion of the program to include Afghanistan and other hostile areas, we know of 91,” said program leader Pete Palestina.

“Behind the dais is a flag display holding both military and American flags - 91 of them. At one time, all were military flags, each representing the branch of service and identifying the resident with a yellow streamer with his or her name affixed to it. As each one returns home, and so far 89 have, we return his or her military flag and replace it with an American flag. After tonight there will be 92 total flags in the display with two of them armed services flags that will be awaiting return to its representatives.”

The Jan. 6 recognition began with a welcome home for Coast Guard Seaman Robert Hayes who returned from his deployment to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. He deployed there in Nov. 2018 and returned stateside on Nov. 30, 2019. He now resides with his family in Syracuse, N.Y., having relocated there from Churchville several months ago.

Unable to attend the ceremony, Robert and the Hayes family made arrangements with their good friend Jeff McKinnon to retrieve his Coast Guard flag, which Chairman Adam Selisker retrieved from the display after replacing it with Robert’s U.S. flag.

“If you’re listening, welcome home Bobby. We’re glad to have you home safe and sound,” said Selisker. “I’d also like to thank the Hayes family for allowing Bobby to serve our country. On behalf of all of our township residents, thank you very much for serving.”

On behalf of Hayes, McKinnon accepted flags, citations and resolutions thanking him for his service from US Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, State Sen. Robert Tomlinson and State Rep. Wendi Thomas.

Tracy McKinnon read a letter from Bobby’s parents thanking the township “for recognizing and honoring our son and all those who are serving our country” and calling the township’s flag program “a wonderful tradition.”

Officials also recognized the service of U.S. Army Major Jon Pavlovcak who recently deployed to Guantanamo Bay.

Pavlovcak’s wife Karen, daughter Kate and son Jack were given the honor of placing Jon’s personalized Army flag in the display where it will remain until he safely returns from his deploykment to exchange it for an American flag.

“This is really touching,” said Karen. “We can’t wait until Jon is home. We thank everyone for their support and for the supervisors and everyone who cane out tonight. This is something that is really, really special.”

Added Selisker, “This is great tradition and you should know that you have a great community behind you while he’s gone. As proud as we are of him for doing what he’s doing, we are proud of the family for what you do because you make a lot of sacrifices as well. You have all of us here if you need us.”

Palestina closed the program by noting, “Those that serve our country in the military are at risk whether they are on U.S. soil or foreign soil as evidenced by what took place last week in Bagdad with our embassy and at the airport. Their lives are put on the line each and every day,” said Palestina. “Northampton and our country are proud of what our military are doing for the freedoms we enjoy here at home.”

There are two Patriots who did not make it home safe and sound - Army PFC Bobby Dembowski Jr. and Army Master Sgt. Ken Elwell.

“Their American flags are in the display, front and center, with the black streamers containing their names,” said Palestina. “We will never forget Bobby and Ken and the service they gave while paying the ultimate price, Bobby Dembowski 13 years ago on May 24, 2007 and Ken Elwell, almost 9 years ago on July 17, 2011.”

Turning to Jeff and Tracy McKinnon, Palestina said, “Please give our regards to Bobby and thank him again for his service. And to Karen, Kate and Jack, Jon is one of our two Northampton residents in harm’s way as represented by the flag you placed. We thank you for your Jon’s service and hope to see him in the near future for a welcome home and replacing his flag with the US flag.

“God bless him and all our troops in harms way and keep them safe,” said Palestina, who thanked the Board of Supervisors for allowing the Flag presentations to take place at the reorganization meeting.

“It’s not the normal operating procedure, but it just goes to show how Northampton goes the extra mile when it comes to honoring our military residents,” said Palestina. “Thanks to everyone for coming tonight and being part of this wonderful ceremony.”

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