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Peters Township ceremony reinforces meaning of Memorial Day

Many Americans know why the last Monday in May is a national holiday.

Apparently, they’re still in the minority.

“A survey of people revealed that 74 percent of the population thought that what was significant about Memorial Day was that it marked the opening of summer pool season,” U.S. Army Col. Gregory Adams told the crowd gathered at Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 764 in Peters Township. “It seems our national memory needs a boost from time to time about the solemn significance of this holiday.”

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Peters Township High School Marching Band trumpeter Jackson Rutherford plays "Taps" during the ceremony at VFW Post 764.

The Nottingham Township resident was the featured speaker at Monday’s commemorative ceremony, with the podium set up near the post’s War Memorial.

“To remember and to honor those who have served our great country, we distinguish this day from Veterans Day in order to solemnly remember and give thanks for the sacrifices of our veterans who died in the service of our country,” he said.

A native of Indiana state, Adams has a military résumé that includes serving as chief of operations of coalition forces for the Land Component Command at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in 2003-04. At the Peters Township ceremony, he spoke about the history of Memorial Day, from its May 30, 1868, origin nationally as Decoration Day.

“Although it originally honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War,” he said, “during World War I the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.”

The federal Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 fixed Memorial Day as May’s final Monday, starting in 1971. Twenty-nine years later, prompted in part by surveys similar to the one cited by Adams, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Members of VFW Post 764 fire a Memorial Day salute.

If you’d like to note it on your 2020 calendar, the act calls for Americans, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to pause for one minute.

“Does 3 p.m. seem an inconvenient time?” said Adams, quoting author Teresa TL Bruce regarding the act’s purpose. “After all, it’s smack dab in the middle of many folks’ trips to the beach or backyard barbecues. Stopping for a moment of solemnity would slam a damper onto the fun.

“That’s the point. Those whose lives ended in service to their country put aside their personal lives, their fun. We can resume our parties and picnics after sixty seconds, but they, and their families, will never return to life as before.”

The ceremony at VFW Post 764 followed Peters Township’s annual Memorial Day parade, and Adams shared some fond memories from his original hometown.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Members of the Peters Township High School Marching Band and Color Guard participate in the Memorial Day parade.

“When I was a child, our community’s parade went by my house, to the cemetery just down the street,” he said. “There was a contest to decorate bicycles in patriotic colors, and if your bike was decorated, you were allowed to ride in the parade, a tradition I truly enjoyed with my neighborhood buddies.”

Adams commended those who attended the parade and ceremony for taking the time to remember those whose lives were lost.

“But we can do more,” he said. “While it is right and fitting to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice – and more importantly, remember the families that they left behind – we, too, can and ought to serve others, veterans or otherwise.

“Many of our veterans who survive but are gravely wounded, physically or emotionally, need our help,” he continued. “Tragically, each day 20 veterans take their own lives. But more than that, maybe it’s just our neighbor down the street who needs our help. So I implore you, reach out and help.”

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

From left, siblings Oaklee, Elijah, Audra and Kaylee Tarbert get ready for Peters Township’s Memorial Day parade.


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Peters Township parade participant recalls a special passenger

One of the perks of owning an antique car is being invited to show it off during parades.

Among the automobiles rolling along East McMurray Road during Peters Township’s Memorial Day parade was Carter Roth’s 1941 Ford De Luxe coupe, which was built shortly before American manufacturers ceased production of nonmilitary vehicles for the duration of World War II.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Carter Roth drives his 1941 Ford De Luxe coupe along East McMurray Road in Peters Township's Memorial Day parade.

Sometimes, the Nottingham Township resident carries special passengers for similar celebrations, as he did back in the 1990s in Sarasota, Fla.

“A lot of the units that were in the Second World War trained in that area, so they came back to Sarasota for their reunions,” Roth said. “And one year, Doolittle’s Raiders were coming back.”

He was referring to the participants in the April 18, 1942, air raid over Tokyo, planned and led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle of the U.S. Army Air Corps, the first demonstration that American bombers could inflict damage on the Japanese mainland.

Roth’s passengers in Sarasota happened to be a gentleman named J. Royden Stork and his wife, Kay. And Roy, as everyone called him, happened to have been co-pilot on one of the raid’s B-25s, which bombed a chemical plant and landed in China when it ran out of gas.

“When I was a young man, I read the book ‘30 Seconds Over Tokyo,’” Roth said about the chronicling of the raid by Bob Considine and Ted W. Lawson. “So I was thrilled to death. I told him, ‘I read the book, and to have you in my car is beyond belief.’”

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Andrew Tumicki participated in the Memorial Day parade with his 1930 Ford Model A Speedster.

The parade was a success.

“You would have thought it was V-J Day. The streets were lined. Everybody had little flags, and they’re waving them. We’re going along and smiling,” Roth recalled. “Every so often, there would be an old soldier from the big war. He’d be stuffed into his old uniform. When we went by, he would step off the curb and snap a proper salute to the gentleman in the back. And that’s when I lost it.”

He still could drive his Ford, though, while crying.

As for Roy Stark, he died in 2002 at age 85. And Richard Cole, the last surviving Raider, was 103 when he died this April. He had been scheduled to visit Sarasota that same month to be honored.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Al Emerick participated in the Memorial Day parade in his 1951 Crosley Hot Shot Sport.


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Veterans give perspectives during Memorial Day Remember and Honor Service

While serving in Iraq in 2008, U.S. Army Sgt. Donna Pratt suffered an injury that broke both her feet and ankles, damaged her knees and spinal cord, and bound her to a wheelchair.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

U.S. Army Sgt. Donna Pratt speaks about the Wounded Warrior Project.

“My doctors told me I would probably never walk again,” she told the audience gathered May 27 for Jefferson Memorial Park’s Remember and Honor Service, after she walked to the podium.

She was one of the guest speakers for the annual Memorial Day event at the cemetery in Pleasant Hills, along with state Sen. Pam Iovino, D-Mt. Lebanon, and Master Sgt. Chuck Burrow of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Pratt discussed the anxiety and depression she faced after returning home, plus the guilt she felt at leaving her team of fellow soldiers to fend without her in the Middle East.

Then the Wounded Warrior Project came calling.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based nonprofit offers free services to support injured military personnel, and representatives extended Pratt an invitation to participate in a Soldier Ride, a four-day cycling experience.

“The Soldier Ride is much more than a bicycle ride. It pushes you to your limits beyond what you think is possible and leaves you with a deeper understanding of who you are and what you’re capable of,” she said.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

State Sen. Pam Iovino, D-Mt. Lebanon, served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years.

In her case, the event introduced her to an adaptive cycle, for people who are not able to use their legs. And it opened her to a whole world of adaptive sports. Her goal is to make the U.S. Paralympics archery team.

“The Wounded Warrior Project saved my life,” Pratt said. “They gave me my team back. I didn’t feel alone anymore.”

Through his participation in the South Hills Veterans Honor Guard, Burrow helps grieving families feel they are not alone. He serves as president and chaplain of the group, which provides final military honors to honorably discharged veterans upon request.

“Being a member of an honor guard is not always easy, and yet, mostly routine,” he said. “But there are times when something happens and it is difficult to maintain one’s composure.”

He cited an occasion in which a young boy wouldn’t stop crying at the service for his grandfather, a World War II veteran.

“But it is a feeling of fulfillment, of giving back to continue to serve our veterans, however it may be,” he said.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the Remember and Honor Service was Aubrey Bruschell of Irwin, a 2018 contestant on ABC-TV's "American Idol."

A veteran of 23 years of active service in the Marine Corps, Burrow is the nominee for second vice commander of American Legion Post 760 in Bethel Park, and he is a former commander of Post 156 in Mt. Lebanon. He spoke about the South Hills Veterans Honor Guard’s participation in an especially poignant ceremony May 16 at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil Township.

The burial service with full military honors was for Army Pfc. George Spangenberg, a Pittsburgh native who died at age 30 while serving in the Korean War. His remains were not recovered until last year.

“After a long search for the next of kin, his remains are now at home and laid to rest,” Burrow said about Spangenberg, who earned the Bronze Star Medal for heroic achievement, along with many other commendations. “And it was my honor to preside over that last memorial service prior to his interment.”

A Navy veteran, Iovino also had a 23-year military career, culminating in her promotion to captain, the equivalent of the rank of colonel in other branches of the military. She subsequently served as assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs as appointed by President George W. Bush.

She reminded those in attendance the military is all-volunteer, as it has been since the elimination of the draft in 1973.

“That call to service comes from within,” Iovino said. “It is their choice to do that, to don that uniform and protect us, and for some, make that ultimate sacrifice.”

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Members of the Thomas Jefferson High School Choir sing during the Remember and Honor Service.