For giving his life, a Medal of Liberty bestowed
SHEFFIELD — Paul Cronk Jr. was always working on cars.
The Ashley Falls teenager's favorite was his blue 1958 Ford Thunderbird. The T-Bird was a restoration in progress when Cronk was shipped overseas in summer 1968 to fight in the Vietnam War.
The specialist fourth class in the U.S. Army 25th Division never saw that classic car again. On Nov. 16, 1967, Cronk was killed in action in the Battle of Dak To in the Central Highlands of then-South Vietnam. He was 19 and died three months after deployment.
Cronk's younger brother, Bob Cronk, a senior at Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield, another brother, Steve, and his parents got the news two days later.
"I had come home from football practice, that's how I heard about [Paul's death]," Bob Cronk said.
Fifty years later, Paul's memory remains strong, thanks to the 1958 Thunderbird parked in Bob Cronk's yard.
"Right there, by my house, I see it every morning," said Cronk, who is a Navy veteran.
Cronk, his wife, Rose, family and friends were on hand Thursday afternoon on the Mount Everett campus reminding the community — many too young to remember the sacrifice Paul Marvin Cronk Jr. made for his country.
During a ceremony before the high school softball game between the Mount Everett Eagles and the Monument Mountain Spartans, Paul Cronk was posthumously awarded the Massachusetts Medal of Liberty. The heart-shaped medal to symbolize the Purple Heart created in 2009 is awarded to servicemen and women from the commonwealth who were killed in action or died from wounds suffered in action.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli presented the medal to Bob Cronk, who accepted it on behalf of Paul.
"I hope you receive this as a tribute to your brother and the sacrifice he made," Pignatelli said before a large gathering at the softball field.
Senior Lauren Edwards, a co-captain of the Eagles, was proud to honor a Mount Everett alum.
"We've always tried to honor veterans," she said. "It's part of our [school] culture."
The ceremony began with Mount Everett's marching band forming an arc between just beyond the infield. It performed "Hymn to the Fallen" in memory of all who died defending America.
Players from both teams emerged from a wooded path behind the outfield fence, each carrying an American flag. They proceeded to stake them into the ground, from foul pole to foul pole outside the fence.
"I'm proud of our school for doing this," said Eagles catcher Madison Ullrich. The junior already has enlisted in the Air Force, following in the footsteps of her father, grandfather and aunt.
Led by the Sheffield Police Department, an honor guard representing all five branches of the military marched onto the field and to the pitcher's circle.
The representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard were joined by about 20 veterans in attendance.
Air Force veteran Tim Ullrich — Madison's dad — said the ceremony made him proud to be a Mount Everett graduate.
"As time goes, we need to remind each generation of the sacrifices made for our country," said Ulrich, a 17-year member of the Great Barrington Police Department.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at email@example.com and 413-496-6233.
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