KINGSTON — The young girl sang her heart out because it was from her heart.
Madison Dompkosky, Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen 2017 and a volunteer at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, stood proudly before about 25 veterans, some in wheelchairs, on Thursday as she sang them a song.
Dompkosky, 15, Mountain Top, sang Sailor Jerri’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — it’s known as “Veterans Hallelujah.” Sailor Jerri is a Navy veteran who sings her own version of “Hallelujah.”
With the veterans, family members, VA employees and members of the public crammed into the room, Dompkosky sang:
“You packed your bags and shut the door. You crossed the sea to fight a war. You didn’t know just what would happen to ya.
“Stepped in the dirt, boots on the ground and gunfire was the only sound and to yourself you whispered Hallelujah.”
After the familiar chorus, Dompkosky continued:
“Every day and every night, you walked the walk, you fought the fight. You never saw the end in sight, now did ya?
“The days awash in a haze of red, the blood, the mud, too many dead. Your weary soul was crying, Hallelujah.”
After another chorus, Dompkosky went on:
“Too late to help, you hear a shot. You know you’re in a deadly spot. You never thought this day would come now did ya? Your brother falls down to the ground. The enemy is all around. From your lips you scream a Hallelujah.”
After another chorus, Dompkosky sang the final verse:
“You fought the fight till it was done, you have the strength to carry on. You thought it’d be much better back home did ya?
“You try each day, keep pushing through. But the battle lives inside of you. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
It was an emotional moment — the song hit home with everyone in the room. The audience knew exactly what Dompkosky was singing about — the message that Sailor Jerri wanted to send, not just to veterans, but to all Americans. Dompkosky said she couldn’t wait to sing it.
“I’m honored to be able to sing a patriotic song to these veterans,” said Dompkosky, a 10th grade student at Wyoming Seminary. “They have sacrificed so much for my life and all our lives. We all should do everything we can to honor our veterans for all they have done for us.”
Fred Starles, 86, of the East End section of Wilkes-Barre, served in Korea and he said the song and the ceremony were “great” for the veterans.
“It’s terrific to see this appreciation shown from the public for all veterans,” Starles said. “It’s great to see this support and to thank us for our service.”
Sam Greenberg, 90, of Kingston, is chairman of the VA’s Volunteer Service Board of Directors. Greenberg said honoring veterans is always appreciated.
“It’s all about remembrance,” Greenberg said. “Just saying thank you to a veteran goes a long way.”
The keynote speaker for the event was David Eisele, Lackawanna County director of Veterans Affairs and a retired corporal in the Marine Corps. Eisele said he is a disabled veteran, having been severely injured in a training accident.
“When it happened, there was some doubt if I would ever walk again,” Eisele said. “But thanks to this facility and the doctors and staff here, I’ve come back and I am proud to stand before you today to honor all veterans.”
Eisele, 39, thanked the veterans for their sacrifice that kept America free.
“These brave men and women who serve our country know the risk going in and they accept it,” he said.
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Valerie Boytin, associate director for patient care services at the VA, said there are 22 million veterans living in the U.S.
“Every day is Veterans Day,” she said. “Veterans have kept us free, but freedom is never free.”