Honoring the Alle-Kiski Valley's veterans started Friday, continues Saturday
With words, poetry and song, Alle-Kiski Valley residents began gathering Friday to honor the area's veterans in advance of Veterans Day today.
Among the events were a spaghetti luncheon at the Marconi Club in Leechburg, a long-running program at Allegheny Valley's Springdale Junior-Senior High School and a lunch gathering at Mary Queen of Apostles School in New Kensington.
At Leechburg's Marconi Club, an empty chair served as a reminder and honored veterans, those currently serving and those who died serving their country.
Leechburg Area High School students served the meal.
“It makes me feel appreciated because I am recognized for the service that I provided for the country,” said Jim Thompson, 70, of Saxonburg, who served in the Air Force during Vietnam.
‘My duty and my obligation'
In Springdale, Dave Bair, 72, of Penn Hills came to the high school auditorium to see his niece, Allie Stegner, 11, a sixth-grader at Colfax Upper Elementary School.
Before the program began, a ball cap bearing the emblem of the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier rested on his knee; he had served as a Navy aircraft mechanic on the vessel, now decommissioned, during Vietnam.
“It's a lot different than when we were in Vietnam. We weren't so well appreciated,” he said. “It's nice that the country is more appreciative of their veterans and more aware of what they do, especially in schools. Kids are learning now how important it is to have a military and who keeps them safe.”
John Robbins, 59, an Army veteran from Springdale, was the keynote speaker at Allegheny Valley, where he works as a supply and mail clerk.
Serving from 1976 to 1989, Robbins spent three years near the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
As tensions between the United States and North Korea remain high, Robbins said he's concerned, as a ground war would result in many casualties. The terrain is rough and their military is “highly skilled,” he said.
“That's something I don't want to see,” he said. “Diplomacy would be your best option.”
Carl Kusbit, 68, of Cheswick wore his Army combat uniform to the event. He first served from 1968 to 1974, then again as a medic in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005 to 2012.
When told he was too old to get back in the second time, Kusbit said he changed careers to become a nurse and got an age waiver.
“I knew there were a lot of soldiers getting wounded,” he said. “I felt it was my duty and my obligation.”
Kusbit said he looks forward to Veterans Day.
“It's a good time to honor all the brave warriors — a tribute to those who passed on and to show support for those still in the heat of battle,” he said.
‘A chance to be together again'
At Mary Queen of Apostles, veterans were treated to lunch — which students helped them take to their tables — before a program.
The school building originally was a public school named after Robert D. Greenwald, a New Kensington native who died aboard the USS Helena, a light cruiser, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Fred Grau, 72, of Lower Burrell said Veterans Day is his favorite day of the year. He was in the Air Force during Vietnam as a crew member aboard B-52s, and then as a maintenance officer during Desert Storm.
“It's a chance to be together again,” he said as he waited for more vets to arrive for lunch. “It's always been important to me and my family.
“It's so nice they invite us,” he said. “This school is so good to us.”
Vietnam veterans were prominent at Friday's events.
“When I joined the VFW, the World War II vets were the old guys,” said T.J. Sproull, an Army veteran who was born on Veterans Day and turns 66 today. “Now, we are.”
Sproull, a senior vice commander at the VFW in Lower Burrell, served as a petroleum lab specialist in Vietnam during his service in 1971 and 1972, making him among the youngest of the Vietnam veterans.
Sproull and other veterans will take part in ceremonies, services and parades. Among their stops is the Belair Health and Rehabilitation Center in Lower Burrell, where they'll honor the veterans living there.
“The people are starting to appreciate the veterans a lot more, especially the Vietnam vets,” he said.
Eugene Mitchell, 67, of New Kensington was wearing regalia of the Tuskegee Airmen, honoring his uncle, Littleton Mitchell, who joined the famed group during World War II.
Mitchell didn't get to fly the planes, instead serving as an administrative specialist in the Army Air Corps.
“I was behind a typewriter,” he said.
Upon graduating from high school, Mitchell said he could have gone into the military or to work in a factory. His parents couldn't afford to send him to college.
“I decided to try the military,” he said.
Following his service from 1971 to 1974, he went to college on the GI bill, graduating from Carnegie Mellon University. He retired from Bayer Corp., where he was director of finance.
“This is great the school would recognize our veterans,” he said. “It's fantastic. I'm impressed with these kids serving the veterans.”