Steelers legend helps honor veterans for their service

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:58 p.m.

Members of the Pine-Richland High School Air Force Junior ROTC joined former Pittsburgh Steeler and Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier, as well as others, to help pay tribute to more than 20 veterans at The Arbors at St. Barnabas in Valencia.

The Dec. 17 event was part of the Presents for Patients program that provides holiday gifts for residents of nursing homes, said Jim Roddey, former Allegheny County executive and St. Barnabas spokesperson.

The goal for this year was to reach 353 nursing homes across five states. More than 37,000 presents were wrapped by volunteers to be given to patients for this Christmas season, he said.

“It's a program that has spread good cheer and represents what Christmas is all about,” Roddey said.

He read a list of the veterans present, many of whom served in World War II or the Korean War, ranging in age from 78 to 92.

Four members of the Pine-Richland High School Junior Air Force ROTC presented colors to the veterans at the luncheon. They also pinned each veteran with an Air Force pin. This is just one of the community service activities they do with the program.

Cadet Master Sgt. Jordon Martig, who is also in the 10th grade, said he's proud to participate.

“It's important to recognize veterans and help them out. We wouldn't be here without them,” said Martig, 16, of Richland Township.

He was joined by Cadet 2nd Lt. Nicole Schlotterbeck, 17, 11th grade; Cadet Airman Jordan Lish, 15, 10th grade; and Cadet Airman 1st Class Alex Wilson, 16, 10th grade, all of Pine Township.

“(The veterans) made the greatest sacrifice of all,” added Wilson.

Retired Steeler running back Bleier is also a Vietnam War veteran. Roddey noted at the event that Bleier was wounded in combat and was even told he couldn't play football. Defying odds, Bleier continued to have a successful career in the 1970s, even becoming one of the first running backs to rush 1,000 yards in a season, along with fellow player Franco Harris, helping the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins.

Bleier has been participating in the Presents for Patients program for more than 20 years.

“It's about giving back and being involved and using that notoriety in the best possible way,” said Bleier, who was also awarded both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service to the country.

The National Football League Hall of Famer said that organizations like the AF JROTC can have a positive impact on students' lives. These programs give young adults something to do in their free time that is worthwhile and positive, he said.

“It's another activity (for young people) that gives patriotism and service to this country,” said Bleier.

The former Steeler presented a signed football, Steelers hat and slippers to Arbors' resident Charles Lang, who was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Lang's ship was hit by a kamikaze pilot only one day before the war was declared ended, which killed 20 persons on the ship, said Lang.

“We were sure it was over,” he said.

He said their ship had the last fatality of the war.

Lang and his wife, Betty, moved to the Arbors in 2011. He said events like this are meaningful to him and his fellow veterans.

“You feel like someone appreciates what you went through,” said Lang, 91, whose father was a marine in World War I. His brother was in the U.S. Army.

The veterans at the event were residents of either The Arbors at St. Barnabas or Valencia Woods at St. Barnabas, both located in Valencia.

Mike Gasparetto, a recently retired chief master sergeant of the U.S. Air Force, teaches aerospace instruction at Pine-Richland High School, and was at the event supervising the cadets.

He said the purpose of the AF JROTC isn't just to try and recruit students to the military out of high school, but to help them function well in society and life.

“What it's doing is to build better citizens … so whatever their endeavors will be they're better prepared,” said Gasparetto, 50, of McCandless.

The high school offers the program to students in ninth to 12th grade with an emphasis on teaching aerospace science as well as life-skills training, community service, and self-discipline, according to Major Michael Morrison, who also is an instructor for the high school program.

Members of the Mars VFW also visited with the veterans and helped distribute gifts at the luncheon. Jordan Rose Luntz of Knoch High School in Saxonburg sang the national anthem, “I'm Proud to be an American,” and Christmas songs.

Roddey said that the Presents for Patients is a program that was founded in 1984 by President of St. Barnabas William B. Day who was also there to greet patients. Many organizations, business or groups volunteer or participate in the program, he said.

For more information on Presents for Patients, visit

Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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