Before the stands filled with fans and the teams took the field Saturday at Peoples Natural Gas Field, there was another gathering to remember the sacrifice of the area's fallen soldiers and honor the children whose lives are forever changed by war.
"Calling it a memorial really doesn't do it justice," Curve General Manager Rob Egan told the crowd at the unveiling of the "Children of Pennsylvania's Fallen Warriors" statue Saturday afternoon. "It's really a salute and a recognition of a different kind of sacrifice - those made by the children of fallen warriors. Those children and their families know that sacrifice. They live it every day, and this statue is for them."
The statue, one of a boy and a girl, flag in hand, climbing to the top of a hill, is also for everyone else, Egan said, so people don't forget the loved ones of these soldiers.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Mason Hook, 5, of Altoona helped unveil a statue honoring children of members of the military who have been killed in action at a ceremony outside Peoples Natural Gas Field on Saturday. Mason’s father, Army Spec. Michael A. Hook, was killed in action in 2007.
"May you find comfort and community support for your daily sacrifices and know you are not alone and won't be forgotten," Egan said.
An idea born out of Curve Chief Operating Officer Dave Lozinak's desire to recognize soldiers' families and through the hard work of people such as Sgt. Joseph K. Hughes, recruiter with the Pennsylvania National Guard, $15,000 in donations from local businesses and individuals was raised to make the statue a reality.
Unveiling the statue Saturday was Mason Hook, born Sept. 19, 2007, just three weeks after his father, Army Spc. Michael A. Hook, was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq.
With a small voice and sheepish smile, Mason said he was happy he would get to throw out the first pitch at Saturday's 6 p.m. game and have a hand in unveiling the statue earlier in the day.
"I'm very excited," Mason said.
Dennis Butts, a Vietnam Marine Corps veteran and tireless advocate for servicemembers and their families, was awarded three Purple Heart Medals, Presidential Unit Citation for Valour and Vietnam Cross of Gallantry asked those at the unveiling to remember the sacrifice of warriors who put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis.
"They are not there for the adventure or excitement or for honor or medals," Butts said. "That has long since passed any thought they had. They are there for you. Some will likely be killed today. Some will be wounded and some will just go back and get ready to do it all again for you tomorrow."
Butts said the monument will bring a measure of peace to families from across the state and give children a place to visit and know that they aren't forgotten.
Hughes said the unveiling was important to him personally as well as for the families of the fallen.
"It's my last military duty," said Hughes, who is retiring. "I couldn't think of a better way to close out my career."
Hughes said the loss of war is difficult for children to understand and he hopes the statue will help them know their sacrifice is not forgotten.
State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, said the memorial isn't merely a reminder of the honorable men and the service to their country, it's an inspriration to anyone who sees it.
"It's a symbol of courage, duty and sacrifice," Eichelberger said. "We should pray no other name ever be etched on this monument and no other family should bear the scars of that kind of sacrifice."
The ceremony, complete with military honor guard and music by members of the 28th Infantry Division Band, not only remembered Blair County's fallen heroes but those from around the region.
"I'm proud to be here, my family is proud to be here," said Roger Kritzer of Irvona, whose son, Pvt. First Class Bradley G. Kritzer, was killed by a roadside bomb on May 5, 2004, at the age of 18 while on patrol in Baghdad. Kritzer said he and his wife, Sharon, continue to meet with other families who have lost a son, a brother, a father, in service to our country and support the various events that honor these fallen soldiers.
"As life goes on, we remember their sacrifice and their families," said Kritzer, who said moving on can be bittersweet for families who welcome new additions such as grandchildren while still living with the loss of their soldier.
The statue, Kritzer said, will help people remember what families go through when they hear the news that their soldier won't be coming home.
"Its a great honor for the children," Kritzer said. "The children do pay a price. The families do pay a price."
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.