From Normandy to North Shore, local Sea Cadets take history-driven field trip
Photo by Erika Fleegle
The Pittsburgh Sea Cadets visited North Shore Sunday, May 17, watching a World War II documentary at the Carnegie Science Center before visiting the area’s military monuments.
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By Erika Fleegle
In celebration of Armed Forces Day Saturday, May 16, the Pittsburgh Sea Cadets rolled in to tour the Norths Shore’s military monuments and learn more about D-Day, Sunday, May 17.
The day began at the Carnegie Science Center’s Omnimax Theater, where the cadets –ages 10-17– watched the film D-Day: Normandy 1944. The film explained D-Day and the Battle of Normandy through five chapters, including the importance of the operation, how it was carried out, and its legacy. It guided the audience in a step-by-step journey through the battle (the largest military operation ever undertaken), highlighting who was involved and the details of the day while exploring military history, strategy, technology, and human values. A brief discussion followed.
“It’s the second time I’ve seen the film,” LTJG Anthony Waters, NSCC, the group’s executive officer, said. “You like it better the second time around. It’s broken down in a way that makes you want to learn more.”
After leaving the theater, the 20 cadets advanced to the first of the memorial tour stops: the Allegheny County Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Designed to honor all officers who have made the “supreme sacrifice” as well as those who are still living, the monument consists of a granite wall featuring the names of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty who lived in Allegheny County. The list of names goes back as far as 1855. A bronze statue of an officer (Susan Wagner’s Ever Watchful) looks out over the river.
“It’s important to remember that these officers are our heroes just as well as anyone who goes off to war,” Waters noted before the group moved on to the next location.
Marching in two straight lines, the cadets filed in to the circular World War II memorial next.
“Now, you guys will understand this one,” Waters said. “You’ve just seen the film on Normandy.”
The memorial, comprised of translucent glass, granite, and stainless steel, is covered in large photos of events throughout the war, from life on the battlefield, to happenings on the homefront, and the harrowing release of prisoners from a concentration camp. One side of the memorial is dedicated to the war in Europe and the other is dedicated to the Pacific theater.
After a quick pop quiz on the history of Pearl Harbor and the atomic bombs, the boys were free to check out the memorial a little closer on their own.
“That’s gonna be me one day!” one exclaimed, pointing at the Merchant Marine dedication on a piece of the monument.
Others attending the walk got a little nostalgic about their military careers. One attendee gave the group a little history lesson on the Berlin Wall.
He recalled being stationed in Germany for work, and described the dangers on and around the wall, from the “barbed wire no-man’s land” between the two portions of the wall and the Russian soldiers perched atop it.
“When that wall came down, my jaw hit the floor,” he said. “I thought I’d never see that wall drop in my lifetime.”
The next two monuments, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial and the Korean War Memorial, were tucked away, almost out of sight, along the riverside.
The Vietnam memorial, designed by a Mt. Lebanon resident, looks to some like a pineapple at first glance, but was created to resemble a lotus flower, a Buddhist symbol of peace, renewal, and rebirth.
A plaque quotes a poem by T.J. McGarvey, a local veteran who played an important role in establishing the memorial. The statues under the canopy created by the lotus flower depict two soldiers returning to their wives and families.
The Korean War memorial, Waters noted, is the largest of the military monuments on the North Shore, featuring a wall of names that stretches and wraps around the centerpiece, a series of granite slabs arranged in such a way that, when the sun is particularly bright, it illuminates specific emotions and experiences from the war that have been etched into the concrete below, one or two at a time.
The Sea Cadets themselves operate out of North Versailles.
“We teach our cadets according to the Navy’s core values of honor, courage, and commitment. We drill one week out of every month… Every three months or so, we try to do a trip like this, get them involved,” Waters said.
WO Mike Sleigh, NSCC, the group’s training officer, added that, “every summer, the kids go through a week-long summer training. Some of them go off to recruit training.”
During these summer sessions, they do everything the Navy does, from vehicle maintenance to submarine school to medical training. While some of the boys continue and branch of into the military following graduation, others do not, but they all take along the lessons the Sea Cadets have taught them.
The cadets, too, had their own reflections on the afternoon.
Petty Officer Third Class John Peters said, “It’s nice that we can finally take a moment to see and recognize these guys. You know, when we were in the theater, there was an Omaha beach veteran there. He was 97 years old. It’s crazy to think that he probably lost most of the people he knew during that time.”
A friend chimed in, “My [relative] was in World War II. When he died, I inherited a lot of his stuff. It’s cool to see where he was and actually put faces to names and things like that.”
The afternoon ended on a fun note, as an officer on duty let the group in to the river rescue station near PNC Park to tell them more about the Pittsburgh Police River Rescue. The boys were enthralled – jumping from boat to boat as the Gateway Clipper Fleet and a few adventurous kayakers drifted by. As they looked out over the water or pretended to steer the anchored vessels, it was easy to see that the future of the Navy is in young, capable hands.
The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps is a federally chartered non-profit civilian youth organization for young people, ages 11-17. They are comprised of a junior and a senior cadet program.
They are sponsored by the Navy League of the United States and supported by both the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. Every year the cadets participate in training opportunities such as SCUBA, field and medical training, photojournalism, military police science and sailing.
For more information, please visit the official website.