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Pittsburgh Veterans Get More Than A Meal At This Annual Picnic

August 31, 2017

By Eric Seiverling

United States military veterans young and old got more than a free lunch at State Representative Rick Saccone’s Sixth Annual Veterans Picnic at Trax Farms on Saturday, Aug. 19.

Sponsored in part by Comcast, the event allowed veterans who served in World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and the Middle East to be recognized for their military service. Volunteers from Trax farms and local churches served lunch to the crowd of nearly 300 people. Food was provided by Hog Father’s Old Fashioned BBQ, Eat N’ Park, Sunoco, Bobbi Bauer Day Care, and Jefferson Hills Children’s Library.

U.S. military veterans and their families were served lunch at Representative Rick Saccone's Sixth Annual Veterans Picnic at Trax Farms on Saturday, Aug. 19. Credit: Eric Seiverling

U.S. military veterans and their families were served lunch at Representative Rick Saccone’s Sixth Annual Veterans Picnic at Trax Farms on Saturday, Aug. 19. Credit: Eric Seiverling

The event also featured guest speakers Captain John Cerra of the 1-110th Infantry Regiment located in Mt. Pleasant, Carol Eggert, retired brigadier general U.S. Army currently Comcast’s Senior Vice President of Military and Veteran Affairs, and Saccone.

“I hope we keep growing every year,” Saccone told the crowd before volunteers served lunch. “It’s amazing how people want to help. It’s our community’s way of thanking you. You gave us some of the best years of your young lives. This is your day.”

Eggert, a recipient of the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Memorial Service awards, echoed Saccone’s sentiments.

“It’s easy to forget those who dedicated their lives to our country,” Eggert said. “It’s essential to our national security that we recognize our veterans. You exemplify all that is good about our nation.”

The United States Naval Seal Cadet Corps stands at attention during the National Anthem. Credit: Eric Seiverling

The United States Naval Seal Cadet Corps stands at attention during the National Anthem. Credit: Eric Seiverling

Since 2012, Comcast has been recognized as one of the most respected military-friendly employers. The company is routinely named a Top 10 military-friendly employer and military spouse-friendly employer by the website Military Friendly, and has received awards from the Department of Defense, Military Times, and Diversity, Inc. Comcast’s pledge to hire 10,000 military veterans is nearing its goal, as the company has hired 8,000 military veterans.

And while the afternoon featured emotional speeches from local veterans and officials, the highlight of the afternoon occurred when one veteran received the surprise of a lifetime.

United States Marine Corps Sergeant Ron Strang, now a federal police officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs, was attending the event, but only as an observer for the day, shaking hands and socializing with other veterans.

While on patrol in Afghanistan almost 10 years ago, Strang was hit by a roadside bomb that destroyed most of the muscle in his left thigh. Thanks to 14 surgeries and an experimental process using pig tissue to help regrow his thigh muscle, Strang is now able to walk and run again.

Joe Tranchini, owner of KASCAR HVAC Solutions, Inc., wanted to recognize Strang at the picnic, but wanted to keep it a secret to Strang.

“When the police department told me that Ron is a top-notch police officer, that’s all I needed to hear,” Tranchini said before calling a surprised Strang to the podium.

For his military service, Strang was awarded with his own private elk hunt in Montana in November of 2018, a new hunting rifle, new hunting apparel, and a letter of recognition written and signed by Vietnam veteran and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier.

“This is way too much,” Strang said, fighting back tears.

The day’s events had an emotional impact on veterans who served generations ago, and those just beginning their military careers.

An emotional Ron Strang, left, is recognized for his military service by Joe Tranchini. Credit: Eric Seiverling

An emotional Ron Strang, left, is recognized for his military service by Joe Tranchini. Credit: Eric Seiverling

“I’m impressed by the amount of people here to recognize veterans,” said John Morain, 21, a student at Ohio University who is enrolled in the Air Force ROTC. “Veterans aren’t as recognized as they used to be. It’s awesome to see so many outside companies help them out.” 

One person not surprised by Saccone’s efforts was Mike Kemple, who in 1944 at the age of 17 left high school to become a U.S. Merchant Marine and was later drafted by the U.S. Army in 1945.

Kemple petitioned Elizabeth Township officials in 2013 to display a merchant marine flag and memorial, which now stands at the borough’s honor roll, and he’s quick to give credit where it’s due.

“Merchant marines never get recognition because people consider it a job, not a service” Kemple said. “Representative Saccone helped me get that flag.”