More Than Just a Game

By Ostrich, Jay | Soldiers Magazine, September 2009 | Go to article overview

More Than Just a Game


Ostrich, Jay, Soldiers Magazine


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WITH golden helmets listening in the setting mid-June sun, emotions were rising as young masters of the gridiron paid homage to Pennsylvania's fallen warriors from the Iron Division.

But for a community still healing from its losses, it would serve as a night to remember because it meant they would never forget.

They call it the Big 33 Football Classic, the Super Bowl for prestigious college-bound foot ball players from Pennsylvania and Ohio. But during pre-game ceremonies in Hershey, Pa., it became a salute for what some are calling the "Brave 34."

The 34 best players from Pennsylvania donned the first-ever helmet sticker designed to honor the 34 Soldiers from the Pennsylvania National Guard who have been killed in action in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The design was that of a simple black keystone like patches worn by Soldiers in the 28th Division, Penn sylvania Army National Guard, with an embedded yellow ribbon, said emblem co-designer Airman 1st Class Claire Behney. Joint Force Headquarters public affairs specialist.

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"The ribbon is a reminder of the sacrifice of these 34 brave Soldiers who would never see the Keystone state again, and a symbol of hope in the safe return of the more than 5,000 Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers and Airmen currently serving overseas," said Behney.

But as players solemnly raised their helmers skyward during a 21-gun salute and rendering of taps, honored guests like Gold Star family members said its meaning went well beyond that.

A day our Guard stood still "just to know that people still remember him means the world to us," said Dana Shearon, sister of Cpl. Gerry Pellegrini, 31, who was killed Aug. 9, 2005, when his convoy was attacked in Hayji, Iraq.

Also killed in the attack were Pfc. Nathaniel Detample, 19, Morrisville, Pa.; Spc. John Kulick, 35, Jenkinstown, Pa., and Sgt. Francis Straub Jr., 24, Philadelphia.

In a separate attack that day, Staff Sgt. Ryan S. Ostrom, 29, of Williamsport, Pa., was killed in action--making it the greatest combat loss for the commonwealth since World War II.

As the means of the fallen echoed throughout a respectfully quiet stadium, Shearon softly kissed her fingers and slowly pointed them toward the heavens. For her, this tribute was not as much a memorial about how these Soldiers died, but about how they lived.

"There were people here who never heard his name before, but they heard it tonight and hopefully will never forget who he was and what he died for," said Shearon. "This tribute says that we can just remember him for all the positives that made him a hero before he died, not how he died."

Her self-described "baby brother," Gerry, had been a Philadelphia police officer and avid boxer. He turned professional and won his welterweight debut by knockout in May 2004 before deploying to Iraq. …

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