SALEM - World War II veteran Robert Zelenak will don a uniform once again, strap on his guitar and sing as he did in the service to help Salem and fellow veterans ring in the new year.
The 87-year-old New Waterford resident received an invite from Abbey Road member John Gilbert to join the Beatles tribute band during their first set at 7 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Kent City Center auditorium, one of six venues of New Year's Eve Salem, an alcohol-free family event.
Veterans will receive free admission to all venues, NYES committee member David Schwartz announced.
Shown in these two photos is Robert Zelenak including a photo of him in his U.S. Army uniform. The 87-year-old World War II veteran will sing during Abbey Road's first set at 7 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Kent City Center auditorium venue during New Year's Eve Salem. All veterans will be admitted free to all venues. Photo courtesy Robert Zelenak.)
Zelenak is scheduled to sing one song, but said he hasn't decided for sure which song he'll do, although the Johnnie Ray song "Cry" is near the top of the list. Other songs he likes and may consider include "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "Release Me."
A native of Aliquippa, Pa., he recalled one day in the third grade when the teacher asked if anybody wanted to sing and he and another boy started singing "Little Brown Jug."
"We were laughing and giggling - the kids were going crazy," he said.
New Year's Eve Salem
-When: 4:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m., Monday,
-Admission: Adults, $5 advance, $8 at
venues; children 10 and under free with a
paid adult. All food at additional cost.
-Tickets sold at: All Salem area banks, Salem Giant Eagle, Salem Historical Society, Salem Community Center, Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.
-Venues include: Dinner and snacks,
children's activities, historical display and
reception, model train display, musical
performances including bluegrass, folk,
Gospel and rock &?roll.
-Information: Call 330-817-6NYE?(6693);
email; info: newyearsevesalem.com
Zelenak was drafted into the U.S. Army at age 19 in April 1944 and went through 17 weeks of training at Camp Croft in South Carolina, had a couple weeks of furlough and then on to Fort Dix in New Jersey.
He boarded the Queen Mary for the trip across the Atlantic and landed in Scotland, crossing the English channel and riding across Europe by train and truck. Trained for infantry as a member of the Third Army, he joined the 7th Armored Division in Holland and became a truck driver.
They built a bridge to get across the Rhine River.
"It was quite an experience to be in the Battle of the Bulge," he said, acknowledging he was scared, but he got over it.
He was a soldier under Gen. George Patton and Gen. Omar Bradley and mentioned British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. He said he went to Patton's funeral, but didn't have a lot of contact with him.
While in the service, during training, he and the other guys in the outfit would sing to pass the time, mostly country songs. He continued his singing after the war ended and said he even sang on the Ponderosa Park stage. People could come and do two songs, but they had to be there at 8 a.m. He said it was a good opportunity.
Zelenak said he started big time with the karaoke in 1991 and started singing all over the place, in taverns and parties, all for fun.
"My big hope is to sing with an orchestra someday," he said.
He met Gilbert at his son's business and they started talking. He was surprised when he asked if he would sing a song during New Year's Eve Salem, noting that Abbey Road is a popular band.
"I'm thankful to have this opportunity," Zelenak said.
When he's not singing, he said he's done a few speeches during veteran events and would like to talk to school children about his war experience.
His wife passed away in 2002. Together they had three children, Mike, Bob and Patty. The family includes four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He lives with his son, Mike, and their chihuahua, Fernando.
Admission tickets for New Year's Eve Salem are $5 in advance if purchased before Christmas Day, and then $8 after that, with all children 10 and under free if accompanied by a ticket-bearing adult. Tickets are available at Salem Giant Eagle, Salem Community Center, all Salem banks, Salem Chamber of Commerce and the Salem Historical Society.
For a full schedule of venues, entertainment and dinner menus, check the website at www.newyearsevesalem.com.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org