SHINGLEHOUSE — A memorial service was held for a few local veterans at the Orchard Guest House here Saturday, Sept. 26.
The Orchard Guest House, which once was a trolley station in the 1900s, is owned by D. Frances Ripley and operated by Tom and Jo Weitzel. It’s a very patriotic home and area, and is dedicated to the L.E.E.K. Hunting and Mountain Preserve for the Wounded Warriors in Oswayo.
Four local, impactful deaths lead to this memorial and dedication. Sargent James “Skeeter” Weitzel, who died in June, Major Lance A. Newton, who died in July, Naval veteran Bill Weitzel and Cpl. Jason Dunham.
Major Lance A. Newton was many things in the community, including a coach and teacher. He died unexpectedly this past summer. Tyler Newton, son of Lance Newton, spoke about his dad’s big heart and how many things he was able to do during his life: teaching, coaching, serving in the Army and just overall being a good neighbor and friend.
“I’m really proud of my dad, what he was able to do … as tough as it still is sometimes, it makes it just a little easier knowing how many lives my dad was a part of, how many people my dad was able to help,” Tyler Newton said.
He said his dad always emphasized to take that extra bit of time to make sure the job is done right and to go that extra mile for someone.
“I’m really sad to not have him here but I’m happy and proud that we can carry his legacy forward and do some good in the world,” Tyler Newton said.
Garrett Newton, son of Lance Newton, concurred and said his dad would want everyone to continue on and look out for each other.
“We’ll remember him as he would want to be remembered, and that’s as a great man and a great role model for ages,” he said.
The family planted a living memorial for Lance Newton — a majestic oak tree — in the yard of the Orchard Guest House.
“It’s going to be quite the tree when it’s matured and a place for all of us to come and visit Lance and remember him,” Jody Newton, Lance’s wife, said.
Sargent James “Skeeter” Weitzel was in Vietnam from 1967-1970 and he was very proud to be in the Marines, his daughter Erin Geldard said. He died in June of cancer.
A plaque was dedicated in his honor. Geldard brought one of his hats that he always wore, a symbol of how proud he was to have served.
William “Butch” Weitzel spoke about his dad’s, Bill Weitzel, time in service. He joined after Pearl Harbor, saying “that was the thing to do.” Mark Weitzel, his other son, said his dad was missed and loved.
A walkway around the Orchard Guest House was officially dedicated to Cpl. Jason Dunham. He served in the Marines with the 3rd Battalion 7th Marines during the Iraq War. He died in April 2004, after he used his body to shield other Marines from a grenade explosion in Husaybah, Iraq. He was 22 years old. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Ed Fisher, founder of L.E.E.K. Hunting and Mountain Preserve, called it a selfless sacrifice.
“I can’t even describe, this young man has inspired so many. His legacy continues today,” Fisher said. Fisher said he’s met several of the Marines Jason saved; they still praise him for what he did.
Debbie and Dan Dunham, Jason’s parents, have spent a lot of time talking with young people and doing speaking engagements to continue serving Jason’s legacy. He said growing up, Jason always stood up for the underdog.
“Deb and Dan went to an intercity school in Syracuse … they were only supposed to be there for about an hour to talk about Jason and his life and his legacy. They ended up spending the entire day there with this school. The entire day. Because these kids wanted to know what a hero is and Deb and Dan do that everyday. They tell them about their son and the hero that he truly was,” Fisher said.
He encouraged everyone to strive to be better people and give back everyday, as that’s what Jason did.
Dan Antonilli, commander of the Shinglehouse American Legion, said though it is a solemn day, it’s a dedication where everyone can look forward and thank veterans for their service.
“To all veterans passed, words fail to capture the debt and gratitude owed. What we can say is thank you, thank you with the understanding that every breath of fresh air is a gift from the fallen,” Antonilli said.
Tom Threadgill, of Allegany, N.Y., is one of the oldest members alive of the Air Force, he enlisted in 1950 and retired in 1973. He served in the Korean War and Vietnam War, and traveled to many different areas during his time. He was also part of the CIA and the U-2 Program.
This was his first time at the Orchard Guest House and said it was a great event, though a moment of sadness as everyone reflected on the loss of their loved ones.