Admiral James Loy is a hometown hero who's made his name known to the nation.
The Vietnam War veteran and Altoona Area High School graduate's career posts include commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.
On Saturday Loy, who currently lives in Virginia, was in Altoona with about 200 people who gathered despite overcast, chilly weather to honor members of the United States armed forces.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / U.S. Army veteran and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association member Terry DeWitt of Dysart picks up a wreath to lay at the Wall That Heals during the Armed Forces Day ceremonies at the Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona on Saturday.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Van Zandt VA Medical Center associate director Charles T. Becker (left) sits with guest speaker and Altoona native Admiral James Loy during the Armed Forces Day ceremonies at the Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona on Saturday afternoon.
It was Armed Forces Day, and the grounds of the Van Zandt VA Medical Center became a place for patriotic songs, prayer and salutations to servicemen and women of the past and present.
"While we all go about our lives, they secure our well-being to go about our lives tomorrow," Loy said.
Janelle Yerty and her husband, John, stood at the Wall That Heals after the program.
Yerty's brother, Sgt. Brandon E. Adams, 22, of Hollidaysburg died Sept. 19, 2004, from head injuries he suffered in a grenade attack in Iraq.
Loy called the U.S. war in Iraq part of "a global war against a terrorist threat that murdered those 3,000 American citizens on 9-11-01."
Yerty said Loy's speech summed up current efforts of the military and was replete with remarks that encapsulate why members of the armed forces are proud to serve the United States.
"He gave a really good message of what defines our nation," she said.
"It was dead on," her mother, Carol Adams, added.
Loy said the United States is defined by four ideas, which veterans have defended through their service.
"It's about the notion of representative government ... that there will not be some king's son someday who will tell us what to do. ... It's about the rule of law that applies to everyone equally. It's about the separation of church and state that lets each one of us exercise religious opportunities as we choose, and it's about a market economy. Those four fundamental ideas, I believe, are what constitute America as we understand it. Those ideas have been protected, especially by those of us who have worn one of those five uniforms [of the armed services]," he said.
Donald Stock, a retired mess-management specialist during the Vietnam era appreciated Loy's presence.
"He covered all the bases in his speech," he said.
"It is nice to have a native son come back and talk to the folks. His service to the country is amazing."
Several veterans who worked with Loy were in attendance.
Coast Guard veteran Jim McCulloch of Altoona was a chief petty officer working in telecommunications at Governor's Island, N.Y., from 1994-97 under Loy's leadership.
McCulloch liked Loy's speech overall, especially Loy's closing statement about actions being more important that words.
"You can talk the talk, but only your behavior matters," McCulloch said, adding that Loy is that way himself. "You'd be hardpressed to meet a finer officer or better man."
Loy ended his speech with a call for actions that supports troops.
"I think the best way to use this Armed Forces Day is to honor the fallen, equip and train those on watch on the wall today and care for and support those who have come home with the scars of battle. ... In their service on the wall, they guarantee our daily lives," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.