ELYSBURG - Veterans are this nation's heroes and they deserve great respect for keeping America free.

That was the message at Sunday night's closing ceremony of the 95th annual Ralpho Township All Home Days that pays tribute to men and women who have faithfully served their country in war and peacetime.

This year, the program specifically honored military personnel from the Vietnam War, which is marking its 50th anniversary.

Andy Bubnis, a retired U.S. Marine who served in the Vietnam War, presented inspiring remarks at the 45-minute program that included setting up a field memorial, a roll call of veterans who died in the past year, prayers, patriotic music by the Vic Boris Trio including the Armed Forces medley, a rifle volley by members of the Marine Corps League Black Diamond Detachment and taps.

Former U.S. Army Sgt. Marc Burlile was master of ceremonies.

Walt Summers, commander of the Marine Corps League, and quartermaster Bubnis, performed a flag retirement ceremony.

"We gather this evening to honor the men and women who have worn this nation's uniform," Bubnis said. "More importantly, we join together to thank them for their service and devotion to duty."

Bubnis, a native of Kulpmont and former high school teacher who lives in Elysburg, said more than 48 million Americans have served their country since 1776 and share a common bond in their unwavering belief in the cause of freedom.

He said over a million service men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice in combat or combat-related events.

"We owe so much to our veterans, and it's a debt we can never truly repay," he said. "Their stories are the story of our history because America rose to greatness on their shoulders. We owe them our very way of life, our freedom to live, work and raise our families as we please. Veterans are this nation's heroes."

In his closing remarks, Bubnis specifically praised Vietnam War veterans for being brave while facing ridicule upon returning home. "I ask each of you to walk through your lives with the dignity and respect you earned."

After Burlile gave a welcoming address and talked about the history of All Home Days, the Rev. Andrew Knisely, pastor of Elysburg Alliance Church, offered an opening prayer dedicated to veterans.

Summers recited a poem entitled "To Those Who Serve."

The field memorial was then erected with the presentation of a rifle by retired Sgt. Sol Bidding, a helmet by Staff Sgt. Karisa Marchlinski, boots by U.S. Army veteran Vince Chuplis, military identification tags by retired U.S. Marine Ray Topolski, a U.S. flag by Senior Master Sgt. Gerry Knapp and a red rose by Beth Burlile.

Carnations in honor of lost loved ones were placed on military wreathes by members of Boy Scout Troop 247 and Cub Scout Pack 3249, both of Elysburg. Sue Adams, a chief organizer with the All Home Days Veterans Committee, recited the names of deceased veterans as the carnations were presented.

Following a rifle volley by the Marine Corps League and taps by Emma and Nicole Rosko, the program closed with the singing of "God Bless America" and a closing prayer by Knisely.