Smyrna flags its pride with ‘American Hero’ honor

SMYRNA — People passing through Smyrna may have noticed banners with various names of those who served the nation on South Market Street.

“Our American Hero” is what it reads, along with the name and branch that person served.

It’s part of the town’s Veterans Day Recognition Ceremony, which aims to show the town’s appreciation to local veterans and active military service members.

Each year the town honors seven veterans in the month of November in honor of Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

A Hometown Hero flag for veteran John E. Bucalo  hangs on a lamppost on Market Street Plaza in Smyrna Sunday,

A Hometown Hero flag for veteran John E. Bucalo hangs on a lamppost on Market Street Plaza in Smyrna Sunday,

The ceremony is held the Thursday night before Veterans Day. The banners then go up the following year.

The program was created by Councilman John Embert in 2013 to recognize local men and women who have either served or are serving in the Armed Forces.

Last year John E. Bucalo was recognized during the ceremony.

He is a Vietnam War era veteran and said it’s an honor to be recognized for his service.

“It was my first time ever being honored for my service,” Mr. Bucalo said. “It was a great feeling. I’m proud to have served.”

Mr. Embert said it was always in the back of his mind to recognize the town’s veterans when he joined the council in 2013.

“There are a lot of men and women who have either served or are serving our nation living right here in Smyrna,” Mr. Embert said. “I just wanted to acknowledge them to let them know that they’re appreciated.”

As part of the program each member of the town’s council select a veteran or active military service member to be recognized.

In order to qualify as a participant, the honoree must be a member of the Armed Forces or have served in the past and be a Smyrna resident or an immediate family member of a Smyrna resident like a wife, husband, son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter.

“During the ceremony we call each veteran up and read their biography,” Mr. Embert said. “We highlight their duties or tours while they served.”

Mr. Bucalo began his military service in 1974. After training at Naval Air Station Millington in Memphis, Tennessee, he was assigned to the USS Saratoga CV-60, which patrolled the Mediterranean Sea.

As part of his duties, he served as a weapons specialist and supervisor of the bomb and missile crews, and also participated in joint operations with the United States Marines.

“I think it’s a great program,” Mr. Bucalo said. “Once the Vietnam War ended and we came home we weren’t received very well.”

During his tenure with the Aviation Ordnancemen he participated in several special operations including the 1976 Beirut Crisis and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1976.

He also served as weapon training officer at Naval Air Station Miramar, Top Gun, Weapons Department.

After receiving an honorable discharge in 1980, and subsequently spending many years in the private sector, in 2005 he returned to public service as the code enforcement officer for Smyrna.

Mr. Bucalo said it’s a great feeling being honored by residents in the community.

“When you’re in a small town people are able to appreciate you because you’re out and about and for the most part you know everyone,” Mr. Bucalo said.

“People know me or have known me for a long time and it’s just a great feeling being honored by people in your community.”

Mr. Embert said the residents continue to support the program each year.

“We’ve been getting a lot of great feedback,” Mr. Embert said. “During the ceremony I’m already thinking of next year.

“It’s one of those things you have to take your time with. The veterans and those that are active are the reason we have some of the freedoms that we have today. It’s a great way to show our appreciation.”

Mr. Bucalo shared the sentiment.

“Smyrna is a great town and the people here are great,” Mr. Bucalo said. “I’ve always been treated courteous by the people here and the whole state. It’s a great place to live.”

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