The overarching theme of the annual Veterans Day observance in Upper St. Clair: Freedom.
“The human heart yearns for it,” organizer Ched Mertz said. “Men and women have given their lives to win it. For over 250 years, America has been winning freedom, from the time of our founders. And they have declared that this is a free land.”
The former township commissioner greeted those in attendance at Upper St. Clair Veterans Park with further comments about the reason for the Nov. 11 ceremony.
“The price of freedom is paid through the dedication and will of fellow Americans who value freedom so highly that they are willing to pay the ultimate price to guarantee that we remain free people,” he said, “and that we are free to gather, as we are gathering right now, to thank our veterans.”
The concept also featured prominently in the words of featured speaker Kyle Pirnat, an Upper St. Clair resident and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who began by asking, “What cause is so dear to you that you’re willing to give up your life for it?”
When audience members gave the reply of “freedom,” Pirnat continued:
“We are here today to honor the people who answered this question, not only with words but with actions. And the answer is simple. Your freedom and individual liberty is so important that they’re willing to give it all for people they don’t even know, for you to chase your dreams.”
He acknowledged some difficult aspects of the military experience, providing a personal recollection.
“When we were in Kuwait waiting for the order to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, we did a patrolling exercise where we hiked very far, carried the heaviest packs we could possibly pack, and we applied gas masks to ensure that our breathing was properly restricted while we were digging holes in the rock-hard earth,” Pirnat said.
“Looking back, our unit was physically, mentally and emotionally hardened in an elite way, that in only days we would realize how valuable it was,” he said. “You must become accustomed to dealing with the worst situations and still be 100 percent in accomplishing the mission.”
Also speaking was another Marine Corps veteran, Samuel Hazo, who was named Pennsylvania’s first Poet Laureate by then Gov. Robert Casey in 1993. He read a pair of his poems, including one that is inscribed at the memorial in Harrisburg for Pennsylvania’s Medal of Honor recipients:
“No soldiers choose to die. It’s what they risk by being who and where they are. It’s what they dare when saving someone else whose life means suddenly as much to them as theirs, or more. To honor them, why speak of duty or the will of governments? Think first of love each time you tell their story. It gives their sacrifice a name and takes from war its glory.”
The Veterans Day observance also included musical performances by Upper St. Clair High School’s marching band and the Chanteclairs vocal group. The Rev. Louise Rogers, associate pastor for congregation care at Westminster Presbyterian Church, delivered the invocation and benediction, and Commissioner Ronald Pardini, the township’s former police chief, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Members of Marine Corps League Color Guard Detachment 726 presented the colors, and the South Hills Veterans Honor Guard Bethel Park American Legion Post 760 rendered a gun salute. The ceremony closed with Upper St. Clair High School senior Matt Hornak playing “Taps” on the trumpet.