Bucks County Herald

History lesson goes awry at Riegelsville Post Office

KATHRYN FINEGAN CLARK

The lobby at the small Riegelsville Post Office will be bare this year during the weeks surrounding Veterans Day.

For the past 14 years, during both Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Ralph Riegel, a retired Army staff sergeant and longtime resident, has steadfastly set up a display to honor Riegelsville area veterans in the lobby of the post office.

He and Frank Albrecht, another veteran who has since died, volunteered many hours to draw up a Riegelsville veterans honor list. It includes those killed in combat as well as those who survived, but Riegel said the battlefield cross was specifically designed to honor the fallen.

The men also gathered artifacts and other items from the families of veterans who had served in many of America’s wars.

Each year the display in the post office lobby grew increasingly complex. Riegel works there on a part-time basis and Postmaster Ernie Cascino has enthusiastically supported his endeavor.

And the people of Riegelsville have paused to look over the artifacts Riegel has assembled as they’ve remembered in a special way those who left home and family to serve America in the military.

The cause of this sad final chapter is a sneak thief, a person with sticky fingers, who stole military dogtags that were part of the display put together on Memorial Day.

Seven dogtags were draped on the battlefield cross Riegel had created to honor the fallen. He had even had a mahogany facsimile M-16 rifle carved by hand to use as a centerpiece for the memorial.

The cross loomed over the rest of the display. It is a traditional and touching tribute to a lost comrade and a haunting reminder of sacrifice with the rifle standing upright in a sandbag, a helmet hung on its stock and draped with dogtags. Standing beneath it on camouflage material was a worn pair of combat boots.

Last Memorial Day the display was extended so more residents could see it and someone stole all the dogtags.

After a story reporting the theft appeared in the Bucks County Herald, all but one set of tags was returned, dropped in a mail slot at the post office.

The theft really upset Riegel. He said, “Many of the items on display were donated by families of service members to honor them. They entrusted their family heirlooms to the postal service and myself. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee their safe return.”

Riegel said, “Shortly after the Memorial Day display this year I was approached by a woman whose husband served in the Korean Wear. He has since passed away. She had a 48-star American flag that was flown at an outpost where her husband was posted.

“After three days of fighting, the outpost was finally overrun by Chinese troops. The last thing her husband did was take the 3-by-5-foot flag with him. It had seen some action and has been preserved for 60 year by his family. She wanted me to display it in honor of her late husband and his fellow soldiers lost fighting at the outpost along with a story of that battle.

“This is history that is not taught in schools anymore,” he said sadly, “but I couldn’t guarantee the flag would be returned to her.”




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