The stadium was packed on Sunday evening. Hundreds of people filled the bleachers, filed into rows of folding chairs and spilled over into standing-room positions. What drew the audience to the high school, however, was neither a high school sport nor a high school spectacle. It was a community-wide rally for America.
According to PTHS Assistant Principal Christian Lesnett, who was instrumental in planning and executing the event, was held to commemorate the on our nation, as well as to recognize and honor local members of military services, military veterans and first responders, such as police officers, firefighters and paramedics.
Lesnett told us that the rally was sponsored by (PTCC), a community-based initiative of area institutions and organizations dedicated to building character.
Mike Silvestri, township manager and PTCC Committee member, described the PTCC as a partnership to promote good character qualities in the community—qualities like responsibility, honesty and respect.
Rotary, municipal government, churches, boy scouts groups and the PTHS PTSA were among the many community groups that came together to organize the event, which was facilitated through the Peters Township High School and school district.
Solemnity was a key feature of the event, though pride and joy were unmistakably felt too.
“Much like Pearl Harbor,” Lesnett said, “9/11 will become not only a day to remember, but also a day to celebrate with patriotism.”
Patriotic celebrations throughout the rally included a variety of musical acts. The PTHS Mighty Indian Marching Band delivered strong performances of national favorites “God Bless America” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” The rich voices of the PTHS choir sung out the inspirational words of “Hand in Hand” as many members of the audience were moved to tears.
Peters Township resident and parent , famed lead singer of The Clarks, hit the stage with supporting musicians to belt out rock n’ roll tunes “Daddy’s America” and “Holding the Flag,” in addition to performing a song he had written on Sept. 11, 2001 in response to the day’s tragedies.
Other musical acts included a performance to “Taps” and a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
A keynote address was delivered by long-time McMurray resident Colonel Lew Irwin. Irwin’s service with the U.S. army spans 25 years, with stations in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and various state-side posts, among others.
In his civilian life, Irwin works as an assistant professor of political science at Duquesne University and is a published author. His keynote address spoke to his memories of loss and inspiration associated with the 9/11 terrorist attacks a decade ago, and reflected on what has gone well, and what hasn’t, since that time.
Irwin commended U.S. citizens for coming together in a difficult time and stressed how the destruction of physical buildings with national importance did not destroy our national pride or the ideas, rights and beliefs for which this country stands.
“American is bigger than those physical structures,” he said. “It’s bigger than all of us.”
That said, Irwin went on to highlight some of the shortfalls of the nation’s response over the past 10 years. Though there was a momentary rally around the flag following the attacks, Irwin said, it quickly gave way to the pettiness and partisanship that has been indicative of our political climate ever since.
He also noted that nearly half of what the government has spent has been borrowed money and that we are leaving our children to foot the bill, passing off to the next generation a situation that is much worse off than it was when it was handed to us.
“We have to better than this,” Irwin’s voice rang out before he concluded his address with the advice to use the 9/11 anniversary as a wake-up call to remember what is really important to all of us.
Monica Orluk, president of Operation Troop Appreciation, took the podium next. She explained that her non-profit organization grants wishes of military personnel. Through donations and volunteer efforts, the operation is able to request soldier’s wishes and send them care packages and public thank you cards, which aid in their missions and build morale.
A commemorative wreath was presented at the rally by Director of Carol Foley. Foley said that the wreath was to honor those brave men and women who, in the past or present, put their lives on the line for our community and country.
The wreath, along with a plaque, will have a permanent place of honor in the , Foley said.
The composition of the audience was vast and varied. Men and women in military and service uniforms sat alongside youth in band, cheer and scout uniforms, mixed with parents, young children, educators and members of the PT community at large.
Judy Alexander, gifted coordinator and Interact sponsor at PTHS, told us that she personally saw every school administrator in the audience, from the principals of each school in the PT School District to .
Also in attendance were a large number of the schools’ teachers, many of whom do not live in Peters Township, but traveled the distance on their day off to participate in the rally and support their students and the PT community.