Alle-Kiski Valley honors veterans with word and deed
Veterans Day brought bitter cold winds to the Alle-Kiski Valley, but veterans were given warm receptions at various parades, ceremonies and other events throughout the area.
Municipalities that held commemorative events on Monday include New Kensington, Vandergrift, Springdale, Oakmont, Lower Burrell and Apollo.
In Allegheny Township, the Kiski Valley Veterans and Patriots Association held its seventh annual Veterans Day ceremony.
The ceremony brought state Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, to the Allegheny Township War Memorial as a first-time guest speaker. His speech focused on the inspiration he derives through veterans and active members of the armed service.
“In this country, we tend to get caught up with what elected officials do and say as leaders of our nation,” he said. “The real leadership, though, lies with the men and women who sacrifice so much so we can enjoy the rights and liberties we sometimes take for granted.”
The speech was followed by a 21-gun salute and bugle performance of taps from the Vandergrift Honor Guard. It had a palpable effect on several veterans in the crowd who saluted the flag and choked back the tears that welled in their eyes.
After the ceremony, Evankovich reflected on his experience with combat veterans at this year's PA Hero Walk, an annual fundraiser that benefits the Wounded Warrior Project.
He said his interaction with one woman particularly resonated and exemplified the sacrifices that veterans and their families make for their country.
“She was on the side of the road and she donated $20,” Evankovich said. “She thanked a couple of us for walking, and then she broke down in tears.”
The woman's son died in Afghanistan just months before the October march.
“She told us that she wanted to donate to the cause, so one mother might not have to go through what she did,” Evankovich said. “That's the kind of selflessness we're talking about. That's why it's so important that they receive the recognition they deserve.”
The PA Hero Walk is organized by Al Pulice, who also founded the Kiski Valley Veterans and Patriots Association and served as Monday's master of ceremonies.
With no veterans in his family, Pulice's inspiration stems from a seemingly mundane incident he witnessed while managing the Leechburg Giant Eagle. The incident was in 2005 when he saw a teenage employee pay for a customer's photos to be developed.
“When I asked him why he did it, he told me the customer had just returned from a tour in Iraq,” he said. “It really got to me.
“I realized I should use all of the resources at my disposal to support the people who protect our freedom. I think we're obligated to do that much.”
Pulice has since raised more than $600,000 for wounded veterans through the hero walk and continually strives to support veterans through other avenues.
He and Don Ryan of Century 21, where the memorial sits off the Route 56 bypass, were largely responsible for planning and financially supporting the construction of the $40,000 memorial.
Pulice was given an added incentive to bolster the project seven years ago after his friend's son, Army Spc. Joshua Henry of Apollo, was killed in Iraq.
“It hit us pretty hard,” he said. “We wanted a way to honor not just Josh but everyone from the area who gives the ultimate sacrifice.”
The ceremony there on Monday concluded with the Apollo Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks donating $1,000 to the Veterans Affairs medical center in Aspinwall.
Beth Waltenbaugh, the Elks' VA voluntary service deputy representative, said the organization collected the money to provide veterans at the medical center with special services and gifts over the holidays.
“There are about 180 more patients this year than there were last year,” she said. “This money will help them enjoy a better (holiday). It's just one way we can honor them for their service.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.