A student at Ticonderoga Elementary School learns what it’s like to be a soldier from Tom Provoncha of the Ticonderoga Veterans of Foreign Wars. Each year Provoncha spends a day with Ti students explaining military equipment and history as he emphasizes the role of veterans.
One Sunday morning after graduating from Ticonderoga High School in 1964, Tom Provoncha came down for breakfast and found a hand saw lying on the kitchen table.
He asked his father why a saw was on the table and was told his “end of the table was being cut off.”
“My father wanted to know my plans for the future,” Provoncha recalled. “When I didn’t really have any, he went into the living room and called the Air Force recruiter. I went to Albany that afternoon and enlisted. Monday night I had supper in Texas. It was the best thing my father ever did for me.”
That was the beginning of a more than 26-year military career. Now retired, Provoncha continues to serve as a advocate for veterans issues and education.
An active member of both the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, he has held local, county and statewide offices. He’s known to almost all Ticonderoga children for his school presentations, which give insight into history and the role of veterans.
This Veterans Day, Nov. 11, he and others will again place flags at the graves of Ticonderoga vets.
“I really have a deep appreciation of our veterans,” Provoncha said. “I feel strongly about our flag, respect and our veterans. Most people don’t fully understand what it means to be veteran. It’s a lot more than someone who did time in the military. Veterans defended our country.”
Provoncha served on C-130 and C-135 planes, flying 41 combat missions in Vietnam from 1964-68.
He left the active duty after his enlistment, serving in the Air Force reserve, but grew restless and joined the Army in 1972. He became a patrol sergeant with the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum.
“I’ve been to 50 countries, all 50 states and circles the world 13 times,” Provoncha said. “I’ve had opportunities and seen things most people only dream about. The military was a great experience for me. That’s why I try to expose young people today to the military’s history and role. I think the military can be a great career for a young person.”
After leaving active Army service, Provoncha spent more than 16 years in the National Guard.
“I joined the Air Force when I was 17,” Provoncha said. “I’ve been involved with the military, in some way or another, ever since. I’m 65 now.”
Provoncha is an avid military historian. He owns a vast collection of military memorabilia, including more than 100 weapons from the Spanish American War to the present. He owns ribbons, medals, uniforms, mess kits, ammo and more.
Each year he brings his gear out to show Ticonderoga Elementary School children what’s it’s like to wear a 40-pound backpack or how it feels to hold a rifle.
His presentation, held at the VFW, is different each year. Two years ago he told students about the D-Day invasion. Last year he talked about the North Africa campaign. He enlists fellow vets to help with the program.
“The reason we all enjoy our liberty is because of the men who made these sacrifices,” Provoncha said. “I think it’s really important for our students to know what veterans did. I think the presentations make it more real for them.
“I wear 28 different medals, I have the Meritorious Service Medal, but I’m no hero,” he added. “I know people who are, though, and want children to know about them, too. These men deserve our respect. They should never be forgotten.”
The Ti students now look forward to the military presentation each year.
“I think the kids get a charge out of it,” Provoncha said. “I tell them things and show them things they can’t get in a classroom. I want to make an impression. I want them to remember what veterans have done for our country.”