NORTH TOWANDA TOWNSHIP – Flashing police lights and bagpipes made their way up Hillcrest Drive in North Towanda Township on Saturday; a difficult hike all to salute a beloved local World War II veteran’s 100th birthday.
David Thomas Jr. has been looking forward to his 100th birthday, which is actually today, and talking about it for the past two years, according to Thomas’s friend Lucille Christini.
She, along with Thomas’s best friend of over 60 years Ray Yale, friend Michele Estes and the Towanda community marked the occasion with more pomp and circumstance than Thomas could have expected as they organized not only a birthday party, but a full parade as a surprise for him.
Thomas, who served in both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Coastguard during World War II, saluted the American Flag as a colorguard led his birthday parade followed by the Penn York Highlanders Bagpipe Band and more than a dozen friends, representatives from local military groups and neighbors in decorated vehicles.
Following the parade for Thomas, the Highlanders played him a special concert, sharing tunes from “Semper Paratus,” the United States Coastguard’s anthem, to Steven Foster’s “Hard Times No More.” Friends gathered to sing him Happy Birthday and celebrate with cake.
State Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) presented Thomas with a birthday card from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that stated in part, “in this world of ordinary people, you are simply extraordinary.” She also presented a certificate recognizing his military service.
“A parade just for you. Not many people get their own parade. That’s pretty special, just like you are,” Pickett said.
Thomas, who is descended from a long line of American patriots that stretches to his great uncle who fought in the American Civil War, shared stories with the crowd that included historic tales of Abraham Lincoln, how he met his wife before deploying to China and of his family’s journeys serving their country.
“When my dad came back from World War I, he had a parade,” Thomas stated with a grin.
In regard to his own parade he said, “Even today, it’s absolutely unbelievable.”
“This old man is just a fabulous guy. He’s got a great sense of humor, he’s a people person obviously and he’s served in the war. ... He’s just a pleasure,” Christini said.
She added that Thomas is known to be selfless in many ways and that even the day’s organizers didn’t know that the Highlanders would play a whole performance for him.
“It was emotional, it was a very emotional experience,” she commented.
“I think it’s fabulous, this is the greatest generation right there and there are not to many of them left,” Christini continued, noting that there are especially not many WWII veterans still alive who are as “sharp” both physically and mentally as Thomas, who is still able to live in his own home.
WAVERLY – Led by class President Morgan Adams, the Waverly High School Class of 2020 tossed their hats high into the air to celebrate the end of their high school careers Friday evening.
“And I present to you the Waverly High School Class of 2020. Congratulations everyone!” high school Principal Ashlee Hunt announced from the field.
Although New York state’s COVID-19 guidance provided some uncertainty leading up to Friday’s commencement, Waverly’s newest round of graduates were able to mark this milestone together in Memorial Stadium, although the ceremony had to be carried out a little differently with video recorded speeches played from the scoreboard, the graduates’ guests rotating in and out of the stands as students received their diplomas in groups, and socially distanced seating.
According to Salutatorian Sheridan Talada, this moment came after what seemed to be the longest three months of these students’ lives following the March school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While we were waiting, we watched our own teachers and administrators embrace this unprecedented situation,” Talada said. “Our teachers ran around for weeks after the shutdown to ensure we had everything we needed – both academically and emotionally. They learned how to communicate everything to us through a computer screen, and we all know how much Mrs. (Mary) Ryan loves technology, which makes this especially impressive. Mr. Knolles (Superintendent Eric Knolles) potentially began a very successful music career. Who knew our superintendent had such as knack for song parodies?”
Although he didn’t parody any songs Friday as he did through the district’s Wolverine News Network over the past few months, Knolles quoted the lyrics to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” as he reflected on how the class has overcome many challenges over the years and inspired them for the future.
“You’re my no-quit class,” he said. “You are resilient. You refuse to back down. Your mental and physical toughness has been on display at Waverly for years. Now you will take that toughness to the workforce, to the military, and to college.”
Through these challenges, including COVID-19, Hunt said the class of 2020 has come away even stronger.
“What a ride it’s been – one of ups, one of downs, one of successes, one of failures, one of happiness, one of sadness, one of joys and griefs,” she said. “But above all, it’s been one of greatness. You’ve persevered through one of the toughest school years in the history of schooling.”
For Adams, this strength and perseverance is what she mostly thinks of when she reflects on her classmates. This is in addition to their high academic performance – even while balancing jobs, athletics, and service in the surrounding community – and common sense that extends outside of the classroom.
“The class of 2020 will continue to inspire others and make footprints for others to follow,” she said.
“People say we will go on to achieve great things and become successful, but it doesn’t always mean having a lot of money and owning a new beach house in Malibu,” Adams continued. “ … Our greatness and our legacy comes from our humanity. Don’t let the word ‘success’ psych you into thinking materialistically. Instead, think about what makes you happy and think and feel like you’ve succeeded.”
With how the end of their senior year was upended, Valedictorian Brandon Clark inspired his fellow graduates to not only be independent thinkers and to always strive to improve themselves, but also to not take anything in life for granted.
“We got gypped on the last third of our senior year, which is arguably the most fun and important,” he said. “But you know what? The world keeps turning and we just have to make the best of every situation. We might have to work harder to keep in touch with one another since we didn’t have senior prom or the senior trip to establish the usual class bond. This time hasn’t been all bad though. we got a chance to spend some quality time with our families. Some of us chose to work, others got out in nature or exercised more. Sometimes the world seems to be going so fast. We all could use a little slow down, and now we have been given a chance at that.”
As they prepared to move forward in life, Talada encouraged her classmates to do good for others, whether it’s cooking a meal for family members or paying for the next person in the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru.
“As we leave the halls of Waverly High School, I and my fellow classmates have learned that one good thing to come out of this pandemic is the appreciation of everyday heroes and everyday actions, from helping a neighbor to washing your hands, nothing is stopping us from becoming a true hero,” she said.
In addition, Hunt told graduates to represent Waverly well and to be proud Wolverines as they embark on their new journeys.
“Wolverines, have courage,” said Knolles. “The wolverine doesn’t know how to quit. The courage of the wolverine is unquestioned in the wild. Set a mark on the world where people will know you are a Wolverine.”
For many states and counties in the U.S., the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic in April unfolded on their television screens, not on their doorsteps. But now, some places that appeared to have avoided the worst are seeing surges of infections, as worries shift from major cities to rural areas.
While much of the focus of concerns that the United States is entering a dangerous new phase has been on big Sunbelt states that are reporting thousands of new cases a day — like Texas and Florida — the worrying trend is also happening in places like Kansas, where livestock outnumber people.
In early June, Kansas looked to be bringing its outbreak under control, but its daily reported case numbers have more than doubled in recent weeks. On June 5, the seven-day average for daily new cases hovered at around 96; by Friday, that figure was 211. As cases rise, the U.S. Army commander at Fort Riley in the state’s northeast ordered his soldiers to stay out of a popular nearby restaurant and bar district after 10 p.m.
Idaho and Oklahoma have seen similarly large percentage increases over the same three-week period, albeit from low starting points. In Oklahoma, the seven-day average for daily new cases climbed from about 81 to 376; Idaho’s jumped from around 40 to 160.
Many rural counties in states including California, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Florida have seen their confirmed cases more than double in a week, from June 19 to Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Lassen County, California, went from just nine cases to 172, and Hot Spring County, Arkansas, went from 46 cases to 415; both spikes were attributed to outbreaks at prisons. Cases in McDonald County, Missouri, more than tripled after Tyson Foods conducted facility-wide testing at a chicken plant there.
Missouri itself is seeing a worrying trend, and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas ordered employees and patrons of businesses to wear masks, when 6 feet (about 2 meters) of separation isn’t possible.
“Case numbers in Kansas City continue to rise, and we are taking all steps we can to ensure public health and safety,” the Democrat said Friday.
Across the state line, Kansas City, Kansas, and the county it’s in also decided to order masks be worn in public starting Tuesday.
But many politicians, even those in place with spiking cases, have been hesitant to issue such orders, as subject has become a political lightning rod, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to use them.
The daily number of confirmed infections in the U.S. surged to an all-time high of 45,300 on Friday, eclipsing the high of 40,000 set the previous day, according to Johns Hopkins.
The biggest spikes have been seen in the West and South. On Saturday, as officials announced that Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Florida would not include a planned bus tour, state health officials reported more than 9,500 new cases. That total eclipsed the previous day’s by more than 600.
Florida and Texas have both recently pulled back on their reopening plans in response to increasing cases. Nevada, meanwhile, reported Saturday that there were nearly 1,100 new confirmed cases in one day, a total that is nearly double the state’s previous single-day record.
While the rise in the U.S. partly reflects expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence the scourge is making a comeback, including rising deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country and higher percentages of virus tests coming back positive.
Deaths are running at about 600 per day, down from a peak of around 2,200 in mid-April. Some experts have expressed doubt that deaths will return to that level because of advances in treatment and because many infections are happening in younger adults, who are more likely than older ones to survive.
The virus is blamed for about 125,000 deaths and nearly 2.5 million confirmed infections in the U.S., by Johns Hopkins’ count. But health officials believe the true number of infections is about 10 times higher. Worldwide, the virus has claimed close to a half-million lives with nearly 10 million cases.
The resurgence in the U.S. has drawn concern from abroad. The European Union seems almost certain to bar Americans in the short term from entering the bloc, which is currently drawing up new travel rules, EU diplomats confirmed Saturday.
But the U.S. is not alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned Saturday that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. India reported more than 18,000 new cases, pushing its cumulative total over the half-million mark, the fourth highest globally behind the U.S., Brazil and Russia.
“The risk posed by the virus is still serious,” Merkel said. “It’s easy to forget because Germany has gotten through the crisis well so far, but that doesn’t mean we are protected.”
Elsewhere, Egypt and Britain said they would ease virus controls, while China and South Korea battled smaller outbreaks in their capitals.
Britain was expected to scrap a 14-day quarantine requirement for people returning from abroad in a bid to make summer vacation travel possible. Only travelers from “red’’ zones, places with a high level of COVID-19, will be told to self-isolate.
Egypt on Saturday lifted many restrictions put in place against the coronavirus pandemic, reopening cafes, clubs, gyms and theaters after more than three months of closure, despite a continued upward trend in new infections.
Authorities in other countries were taking a more cautious approach, with the Indian city of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state, announcing a new two-week lockdown starting Monday, with night curfews and weekend lockdowns in the rest of the state.
China saw an uptick in cases, one day after authorities said they expect an outbreak in Beijing to be brought under control in the near future. The National Health Commission reported 17 new cases in the nation’s capital, the most in a week, among 21 nationwide.
South Korea, where a resurgence in the past month threatens to erase the country’s earlier success, reported 51 new cases, including 35 in the Seoul metropolitan area.
Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.