A streak of unseasonably warm and sunny weather ground to a halt just in time for Veterans Day.
That didn’t faze Ched Mertz.
“We have an opportunity to show the amazing dedication and determination that this community has to show how much we honor our veterans,” he said to everyone who braved the elements to attend a special Nov. 11 event in person. “So I’m going to applaud the rain.”
Mertz served as one of the featured speakers for the 10th annual Upper St. Clair Veterans Day Observance, which, represented the first such occasion to be subject to precipitation.
This year’s event also was the first to be streamed live online, for the benefit of those who prefer the safety of their homes during the ongoing pandemic.
“I guess you could say that neither COVID nor the rain could stop us from honoring our veterans at our beautiful Veterans Park,” Mertz said, referencing the venue near the Upper St. Clair municipal building.
He and his wife, Rachel, coordinated the Nov. 11 observances for the first nine years before asking Brian Schill, a U.S. Air Force veteran who lives in the township, to take over in 2020.
“I knew they were big shoes to fill, but I accepted the challenge,” Schill said Wednesday before joking about “failures” pertaining to the pandemic and everyone present wearing masks.
“Probably the most important failure was that I broke a long-standing tradition,” he continued, “of having a veteran serve as our featured speaker. But that’s OK. I wanted this one to be special, so I chose Ched and Rachel Mertz.”
Both contributed substantially in helping to fulfill the vision of two local residents, William Babcock and the late T.J. McGarvey, to establish an appropriate memorial to veterans in Upper St. Clair.
Ched took up the cause while he was president of the township’s board of commissioners. He later served as treasurer of Upper St. Clair Veterans Park Inc., the nonprofit that raised money for and oversaw construction of the memorial, in which Rachel also was involved.
“And every November since then, Ched and Rachel have coordinated this ceremony, with the township and the school district, and served as the master of ceremonies,” Schill said. “Their dedication has not gone unnoticed.”
For his part, Ched acknowledged the dedication of those for whom the federal holiday was established.
“Today, we can once again thank our veterans for keeping this land free. We acknowledge our veterans’ unbelievable commitment to the values that are really important in America,” he said.
“As a nation and community, we stand here with that commitment, that we will never, ever stop honoring our veterans. We hold in high esteem the sacrificial cause, and as patriots, recognize the cause of freedom that they served to protect.”
Rachel said the participation of students in Upper St. Clair High School’s marching band, “represents a new generation of patriots, furthers their respect and understanding of the meaning of Veterans’ Day.”
Band member Maddie Nolen, a senior, further honored veterans during the observance by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and playing “Taps” on the bugle. She then closed the proceedings with a spirited a cappella rendition, mask in place, of “God Bless America.”
This time, Ched Mertz – everyone else, too – applauded Maddie instead of the rain.