The Patriot

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Gary Folk, Jr. Stands Up for America

Gary Folk, Jr. is an American patriot. He did three combat tours in Vietnam in a four year period serving as an in-flight mechanic on large floatplanes flying low-level observation missions over Vietnam. The planes were effectively large bullet magnets, and Gary was charged – when and if his plane went down – with destroying any sensitive equipment on board before it could be captured. When he wasn’t flying missions, he was serving as part of the crew of a shallow draft riverine vessel patrolling the coast and engaging Vietcong sabotage teams attempting to blow up the planes or their mothership.

Gary is medically retired from the Navy with one hundred percent disability due to exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam and a variety of other hazardous chemicals while serving as a U.S. Navy firefighting and damage control instructor in Washington State. Amongst other achievements he invented a technique for combatting burning magnesium during shipboard fires and avoiding the kind of conflagration that killed 44 sailors on board the U.S. Oriskany in 1966. That fire, started by an exploding magnesium parachute flare, proved extremely difficult for the Navy to extinguish using the firefighting techniques available at the time.

Gary’s a patriot.

He’s also now an “enemy of the state.”

Gary devoted a big chunk of his life to serving his country. His real passion, though, is racing. He caught the bug as a flagman for races at a dirt track near his home in Susquehanna County after he left the Navy.

Gary was paid the princely sum of two dollars a night and a hot dog for working races back in those days. Eventually, he was promoted, and his pay increased to five dollars a night. “But, they took away the hot dog,” says Gary.

Last fall Gary, now 75 and fully retired, and his wife, made the decision to take over the same dirt track raceway where he got his start, the Penn-Can Speedway in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. The track was in bad shape. It was overgrown with weeds, and the racing surface was in terrible condition. The stands, which might have charitably held two hundred spectators were collapsing.

Gary and his wife and a small group of family members and local people attacked the problem. They cleaned up the track. They rebuilt and expanded the bleachers. They resurrected the business, a longtime attraction for locals in this rural county in Northeast Pennsylvania, and got it ready for the start of racing season April 2020.

Gary didn’t have any big financial backers. He didn’t take out a loan. Dirt tracking racing in Northeast Pennsylvania is not a business really. It’s a passion, and everyone involved does it for the love of the sport. Gary and his wife paid for every improvement out of their savings and Gary’s monthly retirement check.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the government stepped in. Gary was originally told by authorities in Harrisburg that he would not be able to start racing in April but May looked like a safe bet. Then that changed. May was now out, and there was no word on when or if the track would be allowed to open.

Racing is a seasonal business in Northeast Pennsylvania. The speedway typically would have races one day a week on Friday nights. Every week lost is another week of revenue that can never be regained. Out of many tens of thousands of dollars from his personal funds, Gary had no choice. He announced he would reopen anyway.

And, then the threats began. Gary met face to face with two of the three county commissioners for Susquehanna County. He describes one as a “libertarian lady” and the other as a “far-left Democrat” lady. The two threatened to pull Gary’s license and put him out of business if he proceeded with the reopening. Gary reminded them that he did not have nor need a license and that the track was on private property. In short, he told them to do their “damnedest.” He was reopening.

According to Gary, the county commissioner he describes as a “far-left Democrat” went to the police for the township where the track is located and swore out a formal criminal complaint against him. The local police arrived at the track, found him preparing for the first race of the season, and issued him a citation for violation of the Governor’s restrictions on permitted activities during the current “state of emergency.” Gary told the police officer giving him the citation to go ahead and write him out several more for all the upcoming practice sessions and the first night of racing. He figured it would save them having to make another trip.

I attended the first night of racing at the Speedway on May 22, 2020. If the facility seats two thousand, that must be jam-packed. There was maybe a quarter that number of individuals there on this particular evening. The crowd was largely families, with a significant number of children enjoying being outside on a pleasant spring evening.

The Speedway sits on the banks of the Susquehanna River in a county with a total population of roughly 40,000. It is surrounded by mountains, woods, and a scattering of homes and farms. In all of Susquehanna County there have been a total of 93 identified cases of coronavirus to date and fifteen deaths. Most of those deaths have been in a nursing home in the Southeast corner of the county twenty-eight miles away.

Sitting in the stands and watching the crowd, all of whom complied with loudspeaker directions to wear masks while at the facility, the rationale behind the whole lockdown in Pennsylvania is really hard to understand. A few hundred people in outdoor bleachers in the middle of the mountains are a threat to public safety? A thousand people jammed into a Walmart are yet somehow acceptable.

Against the backdrop of what we now know about the reality of the virus the legitimacy of these draconian measures is even harder to accept. The latest CDC figures show that something like thirty-five percent of those who get the coronavirus never even manifest symptoms. For those who do become symptomatic, the death rate is currently estimated at 0.4%.

As small as that percentage is even that percentage distorts the risk faced by most people from this disease. It makes no allowance for how many people get the virus, experience symptoms but never go for treatment and therefore escape detection. Also, it averages out the risk across all age groups, when, in fact, we know that nationally, 80% of deaths from COVID-19 are among individuals over 65. In Pennsylvania, in fact, 68% of the deaths from the virus have been in nursing homes.

Most poignantly, though, talking with Gary, his wife, and their family, what comes across is the human cost of the misguided and unconstitutional actions of the Governor of Pennsylvania. Unemployment rates and economic indicators may all sound like abstractions in Harrisburg. Out in the real world, it’s a lot more personal.

Gary Folk is just one of millions of Pennsylvanians having their lives destroyed by the Governor who is supposed to ensure their safety and welfare. Gary’s business will not magically survive if he loses this racing season. It will fold, and there won’t be a magic pot of money that appears that allows him to rebuild it.

All over Pennsylvania small business owners are face to face with this reality. It is not a theoretical threat. It is not a possibility.

This is happening. Businesses are dying or teetering on the edge of extinction. And, our elected officials in Harrisburg seemingly stand impotent to oppose a tyrant who is destroying this great state.

Gary Folk is a patriot. He stood up, announced he could not take it anymore, and acted based on his convictions. It may well be that the only way we are going to end this shutdown is for the rest of us to stand up and be patriots as well.

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