Pittsfield Becomes Purple Heart Community on 9/11
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is now a Purple Heart Community and a portion of Route 20 is a Medal of Honor Highway.
The announcement was made during Monday's ceremony remembering the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that left nearly 3,000 people dead, thousands wounded, and launched two of the nation's longest wars.
The memorial highway stretches more than 3,300 miles from Newport, Ore., to Boston, with Massachusetts as the last state to be added. The Veterans Memorial Park, where the ceremony was held, is on the route.
"This highway now is the longest highway in the United States honoring veterans and it's appropriate that it's honoring Medal of Honor recipients, our most honored veterans," said Brian Willette, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and an Army veteran.
"For it to be coming right by this park, it just adds so much more to this for me."
He explained that the project began in 2018 but was derailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The war in Afghanistan began Oct. 7, (2001.) Since that day, more than 2.7 million service members have served our country in at least one deployment," Willette said. "Twenty-five of those service members have earned the Medal of Honor, nine of them posthumously."
Like many others, Mayor Linda Tyer remembered how surreal it was to see planes flying into the Twin Towers followed by the towers collapsing, people running away, and first-responders racing toward the inferno.
"For weeks and months, our nation was united in standing with New York City and for the American way of life because we saw with our own eyes in real time the extraordinary, tragic, devastating events of that day and the days after and still today we remember those who lost their lives that day and send our condolences to the families of those innocent victims," she said.
"Soon after the events of 9/11, the men and women of the armed forces were called to battle in Iraq and Afghanistan and they ran and they raised without fear and they stood in the breach, protected our nation and fought back against terrorism. Beyond just today, we are deeply grateful to all those who served on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and we remember the five Berkshire warriors who gave the ultimate sacrifice."
Five Berkshire County service members lost their lives in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: Sgt. 1st Class Daniel H. Petithory, 32, of Cheshire, Spc. Michael R. DeMarsico II, 20, of North Adams, and Spc. Mitchell K. Daehling, 24, of Dalton, all in Afghanistan; and Sgt. Glenn R. Allison, 24, of Pittsfield, and Chief Warrant Officer Stephen M. Wells, 29, of North Egremont, in Iraq.
The ceremony took place around the city's Iraq and Afghanistan War Memorial that was dedicated three years ago and honors the men. A time capsule was buried at the monument with items that were provided by their family members and will be opened in 2101.
"This long overdue monument does not only honor those from Berkshire County that gave all, but to all other veterans that served during these conflicts and to those still serving," VFW Post 448 Cmdr. Arnold Perras said, adding that it is events like this that will ensure people never forget the soldiers' sacrifices.
About a year ago, Well's family contacted the Berkshire veterans coalition to inform them that the place and date of his death were slightly off. The error was corrected with a paver in front of the stone, as it was not able to be altered on the memorial.
Wells was killed in action on Feb. 25, 2004, in Habbiniyah, Iraq.
"We work very hard with official Army records to try to make everything right but in the course of human events, we made a simple error," Army veteran Mark Pompi said, apologizing deeply to the Gold Star family on behalf of the coalition.
Pompi explained that his guard unit was on a late summer deployment in Fort Drum, N.Y., when they heard that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers.
"And I'm going to be honest with you, we just shrugged. We were like, 'Well, there are towers and there are planes flying all over New York City,' and we were like, 'Well, maybe a small plane went off course and hit the towers,' and we just went back to work," he said.
"A few minutes later, [the unit medic] came back again and he said a second plane had hit the second tower and we knew then that we were under attack and at Fort Drum, which is a huge military base up on the Canadian border in northwest New York State, everything stopped. That's the day that the world changed."
Pompi, along with Willette and likely other attendees, were a part of Operation Enduring Freedom during which more than 2,400 United States service members were killed in action.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, more than 4,400 service members were either killed in action or died from other causes while they were deployed. After that, 74 more died during Operation New Dawn.
Director of Veterans Services and Air Force veteran Amanda Bates was only 14 years old when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred and, having been shielded from concepts like terrorism, did not know what was going on but was afraid of the silence that occurred throughout the country afterward.
Five years later, she was inspired to enlist after hearing her grandfather Edward Bate's history as a decorated World War II hero.
He was a navigator of a B-29 bomber that was shot down in 1945 and after a desperate attempt to escape enemy waters, the plane was ditched in the ocean about halfway between Japan and Iwo Jima. Bates disregarded his own safety, helped three of his fellow crew members reach a life raft, and guided the survivors through a night of violent rainstorms, heavy seas, and circling sharks before they were rescued.
For this, he received the Soldier's Medal for heroism.
Growing up, Bates was unaware of her grandfather's heroic past and knew him as her papa who laughed like Santa Claus and loved stale circus peanuts. She learned of his accomplishments after he passed and found it clever that he shielded his legacy from those stories, as it taught her the important lesson of humility.
"Like most of the veterans we know, my grandfather not only faced unbelievable challenges at war but also continued to carry those burdens in secret for decades more to come to ensure the best for his family," she said.
"Our jobs as friends, as families, as Americans, and as just plain old kind human beings is to honor those veterans in our community with gratitude, with kindness, and with support, and especially those veterans who have received awards like a Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart recipients that are here, and any veteran that are here."
During the ceremony, the posting of colors was done by the Pittsfield Fire Department color guard, the national anthem was sung by local singer/songwriter Mary Verdi, the rifle salute was done by the Dalton American Legion Post 155, and the taps were played by Iraq/Afghanistan Committee member Joseph Difilippo.