“It wasn’t always like this,” said Al Pasquale, 75 and clad in Marine regalia. “There was a time you didn’t wear a uniform because you’d get spit at.”
But while the wounds of Vietnam, and its aftermath, are still raw for many veterans, the times have changed. Friday night at Washington Field, Pasquale was cheered.
In what it hopes to make an annual event, during last night’s game against visiting Exeter Township, the Phantoms football team hosted . In a pair of ceremonies, a group of local soldiers, past and present, were honored by the community for their sacrifice.
Their tributes took the form of a pregame colorguard, a “Tunnel of Valor” comprised of veterans and dignitaries, a moment of silence for those lost in battle, and a rendering of “Taps” by Phantom player Donnie Jackson. There was also, following a spectacular performance by the Phoenixville marching band, a halftime ceremony where the veterans took the field to raucous cheers and chants of “USA.”
"Freedom isn't free," the PA announcer reminded the crowd, many of whom waved American flags.
Kate Endres, head of the Phoenixville Football Parents Association, said the event was the brainchild of coach Bill Furlong, whose father was a veteran of the Korean War. Furlong, of the mind that success on the battlefield and the football field is contingent on the same virtues, wanted his team to learn about military life from those who have lived it.
In addition to the game-day ceremonies, on Wednesday he had 35 of his players visit the Southeastern PA Veteran’s Center in Spring City to learn about life and war.
“The boys brought them ice cream and listened to their stories,” Endres explained.
Congressman Jim Gerlach, who along with state Rep. Warren Kampf, state Senator Andy Dinniman, and Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello, attended the event, called it a rousing success.
“This was a special, special night,” the Republican said after the halftime ceremony. “You can see that the veterans really appreciated it.”
Phoenixville Mayor Leo Scoda, who was one of many borough officials in attendance, echoed Gerlach’s sentiment.
“It was a great night. You wonder ‘Gee, why didn’t we do this before?”