Friends and family of Staff Sgt. Robert Hartsock, Vietnam veterans and others gathered Saturday morning for the unveiling of a statue depicting Hartsock, who posthumously was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in the war.
Hartsock, it was noted, was the first Medal of Honor recipient to serve as a scout dog handler. His dog, Duke, was also depicted in the statue, and a contingent of military dog handlers from Fort Meade, Maryland, was on hand for the ceremony.
First awarded in 1863, the Medal of Honor was a fairly common recognition during the Civil War era. It did not remain so, however. Organizer Dennis Tice pointed out that in this century, fewer than 1,000 have been awarded, and two of them, Hartsock and World War II awardee Ellis Weicht, were from the Everett area.
“The Medal of Honor is a big deal,” he said. “It generally is awarded for saving other people’s lives.”
That was true in Hartsock’s case. The 1962 Everett graduate was killed Feb. 23, 1969, at Dau Tiang, South Vietnam, when his fire base came under attack. An enemy soldier managed to get close enough to toss a satchel bomb. Hartsock used his body to cover the blast, saving the life of his commander, Lt. Larry Hughes, although Hartsock was mortally wounded.
The statue is the work of Manns Choice sculptor Wayne Hyde, who described the creation as “a monumental task,” but one he was honored to undertake as a tribute not only to Hartsock but all Vietnam veterans.
“They served their country. They fought. They died for their country,” he said.
“I hope that the work that I’ve done here will always bring you honor,” he continued.
The total cost of the project, spearheaded by the local group League of Pretty Good Guys, was about $140,000.
The statue and its granite base were added to the Vietnam memorial already in place at the Squares. It includes in its base an area in which Vietnam veterans had the opportunity to place their thumbprints.
The ceremony was not without its controversy.
The Sept. 12 date for the unveiling was scheduled in February, and approved by Bedford Borough Council at that time.
But as the coronavirus pandemic and Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandates regarding it stretched on through the summer, the size of the expected crowd became a concern. Council, on Aug. 4, amended its approval to require that the crowd be roped off within a designated area to limit its size to comply with whatever Wolf’s mandate dictated at the time, which turned out to be 250.
The original ceremony was to include a flyover of A-10 Warthog jets from Martin State Airport in Baltimore, as well as a helicopter, a brass band and a number of working military dogs and their handlers. It was anticipated that the event could draw more than 1,000 people — about the size of the crowd that attended when a similar statue of Weicht was dedicated — but far in excess of Wolf’s restriction.
PennDOT’s approval was not sought to close Penn and Juliana streets during the ceremony because it seemed likely that the crowd size would not comply with Wolf’s restriction, and PennDOT would not approve the closure without compliance.
The borough continued to raise concerns about how the crowd would be limited to 250, whether sidewalks adjacent to the monument could be kept clear, social distancing issues and whether the borough would be liable should someone attending the ceremony contract the virus.
Ultimately, on Aug. 26, it was announced that the League of Pretty Good Guys had opted to postpone the formal dedication, and Tice said a pared-back ceremony still would be held.
Saturday’s crowd appeared to be around the 250-person limit.