AUSTINTOWN - The Austintown class of 1962 vows to never forget the sacrifices made by two of its own.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Friday for the new veterans memorial to be placed at Fitch Falcon Stadium. The project, spearheaded by the class of 1962, is in memory of '62 graduates Army Lt. Charles "Chaz" William Brown Jr. and Marine Sgt. James "Jimmy" Edwin Prommersberger, both of whom died in the line of duty during the Vietnam War.
Prommersberger was 21; Brown was 23. Both earned Silver Stars.
"We don't think they died heroes. We think they died while being heroes," said Air Force veteran and Class of 1962 Memorial Committee member Jack Kidd.
Kidd said that the men embodied the definition of hero not only by dying in the line of duty, but by never giving up even when facing certain death.
Brown was the last man standing after his entire platoon died, but he never stopped firing as the enemy poured in, taking down several hundred by himself, according to Kidd.
Lt. Col. John Boccieri speaks Friday during the groundbreaking ceremony for a new veterans memorial at Fitch Falcon Stadium. The memorial is being placed in honor of the late Lt. Charles William Brown Jr. and Sgt. James Edwin Prommersberger. Both were Austintown class of 1962 graduates and died in the line of duty.
Tribune Chronicle / Bonnie L. Hazen
Prommersberger volunteered to crawl into the line of fire to administer aid to injured soldiers, and saved several lives before a mortar landed beside him. He still managed to save one more person as he covered that body with his own.
"Jimmy and Chaz are our heroes for the class of 1962, and they will never be forgotten. Austintown must never forget what these men did," Kidd said.
Kidd, along with Larry Cadman, presented the idea for two memorials - one to be placed at the stadium and the other inside Fitch High School - to the board of education. Their ideas were well-received, and the men set about locating funding for the project.
More than $10,000 was raised from the sales of pens crafted from the flooring out of the old Fitch / Austintown Middle School property at 5800 Mahoning Ave.
The memorials will be partially crafted from limestone from the old Fitch building as well as its facade. The stadium memorial incorporates architectural elements from the original Fitch High School, including the 97-year-old carved limestone "FITCH" sign that was mounted over the entrance door and a flag pole that was removed from the football field at the old school.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the stadium memorial was full of emotion as Austintown alumni, administration, faculty and friends gathered to pay homage not only to their hometown heroes but to all veterans.
Lt. Col. John Boccieri called the project an opportunity for people to think about their service, their sacrifice and their commitment to something greater than themselves.
Some of the veterans' family members were present for the ceremony, and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni issued resolutions from the state Senate to Brown's wife, Karen Brown Ruberto, and Prommersberger's daughter, Kristin Prommersberger O'Neill, for their sacrifices.
"It's thrilling that so many people are here and remember and wanted to do this, and they've put a lot of time and effort into everything. He was a guy who did what he believed in, and he'd be thrilled, but at the same time, he'd say it wasn't necessary and I was just doing my job. His job was his job and that was it," Ruberto said.
O'Neill was 2 years old when her father died. Her brother, Dr. James Edward Prommersberger, was 3. O'Neill called the dedication an emotional roller coaster, but also an honor.
"His heart was in Austintown, it was all about being red and blue. When you're from Austintown, even if you leave Austintown, your heart is always here. Class of '62 committee members are our family now. They are some of the best people I know. He would be honored," she said.
Much of the construction and materials are being donated. Cadman said due to the generosity of those community members, surplus funds will be used to start a memorial scholarship in memory of Brown and Prommersberger.
Lencyk Masonry, the contractor for the two new school buildings, will provide supervision and technical support free of charge; members of the Bricklayers Local 8, who also did work on the new schools, have volunteered their time; Don Hall Excavating will donate masonry materials and provide excavating for the project; and Austintown Fitch principal Jim Penk volunteered to do the cement work. Marty Dyer and athletic director Rob Conklin also were recognized for their time and assistance with the project.
"Thank you for taking this time to remember these two brave Americans," Boccieri said.
The finished memorial will be unveiled October 6 during the dedication ceremony for the two new school buildings.