Photo by Erika Fleegle
Citizens of Brighton Heights celebrated Memorial Day with a ceremony in Legion Park during the 27th Ward’s 67th Annual Memorial Day Observance
by Erika Fleegle
“Some heroes wear capes…” one woman’s t-shirt read. “My hero wears combat boots!
Residents of Brighton Heights came together to honor their own fallen heroes this past Memorial Day in Legion Park for the 27th Ward’s 67th Annual Memorial Day Observance.
The event, dedicated this year to the late Joseph Malay of the US Navy, was organized by the American Legion Post 681, the Brighton Heights Citizens’ Federation and the Brightwood Civic Group. Members of Perry high school’s JROTC and Boy Scouts of America Troop 348 were also in attendance.
The morning began with an assembly call by cadet Robert Jones and raising of the colors by JROTC cadets, led by Sgt. 1st Class John Holtz. Brian Shirey offered the morning’s invocation, asking all to “remember those that gave their lives for others so that we might live in freedom and safety.”
The somber theme of remembrance carried on throughout the day as flags were placed at markers designating all wars –from the War of 1812 to the Afghanistan Conflict– and various speeches were read. To break up the ceremony, Ted Bergfelt, a participant in the festivities for the past 63 years, and Jack Hunt, better known as Johnny Angel, led residents in two spirited, patriotic sing-alongs. Speeches ranged from traditional, like the Gettysburg Address, to inspirational. Ted Bergfelt’s rendition of “Barbara Frietchie,” a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier that tells the story of a rambunctious old woman who, as the story goes, waved the Union flag in the middle of the streets of Frederick, Maryland to antagonize General Stonewall Jackson’s troops served as a more light-hearted aside. Bergfelt dedicated the poem to “all women who have served in any way,” particularly a former teacher of his, Miss Leonard, who “taught him what it means to love the flag.”
This year’s Memorial Day address was given by William Haushalter, Esq., who was met with a round of applause from the audience when he noted that, “it’s been said that the folks who fought in World War II were the greatest generation. I respectfully submit that the present generation of Americans, who fought and died as volunteers on multiple deployments, should take a backseat to no one!”
“Those heroes who died and those who have returned…” he continued, “deserve nothing less than our own admiration and support.
Further, he noted that every resident present likely had a special veteran to remember today, saying that “we could all probably write an essay” on the people that have made an impact on our freedom both here and abroad. He wasn’t wrong. Toward the end of the ceremony, a microphone was passed around and community members stated the names of fathers, uncles, brothers, sons and other family members that served in the military. Many paired the names with personal stories about their family, friends and neighbors who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“I remember coming here from the time I was a little kid with my bicycle,” one woman said, who chose to honor her father, a key organizer in former Memorial Day events. “The spokes were decorated in red, white and blue crepe paper. That was one of my best memories of this service. My dad loved this, and I’m sure he’d be very proud that it’s still an active part of the community.”
The ceremony concluded with a special recognition for the Malay family, whose patriarch, Joseph Malay, a life-long Northside resident and veteran of World War II’s Pacific Theater, passed away recently at the end of the last year. Senior Reverend Brenda J. Gregg of Destiny of Faith Church gave the final benediction.
Overall, organizers and attendees were pleased with the outcome of the event.
“We’re one of the largest military programs here in Pittsburgh,” Joe Brown, one of the ceremony’s integral organizers from the Brightwood Civic group, said. “Without the help of all the different community businesses and organizations, we wouldn’t be able to make this happen. We all work as one big team.”
Digging deeper into the meaning of the holiday, he said, “Throughout the years there’s been this Memorial Day versus Veteran’s Day thing. I’m a little different. I think Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day should be every day of the week. Why do we set aside just two days out of the year to show respect? It’s about tradition as opposed to showing respect for fallen heroes and the men and women today who keep us out of harm’s way. This is in honor of both of them.”
Following the ceremony, attendees were welcomed to Destiny of Faith Church on Brighton Road for a community cookout. For Brown, this is a way for community members to “get together, talk about old times, and see some friends we haven’t seen in a long time.”