U.S. Army Sgt. Adam Hartswick took the walk he promised his mother he would take.
When he walked out to the 50-yard-line at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, the crowd rose to its feet. The cheers echoed loudly until Hartswick made the coin toss before the start of Penn State‘s game against Purdue.
Hartswick was in attendance as part of Military Appreciation Day. Soldiers were honored during numerous events throughout the day, starting with a pregame tailgate for service members and their families with Seats For Soldiers tickets, and people who have donated tickets to service members.
The ROTC elite, active duty, Wounded Warriors and veterans were honored for their service during halftime.
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After the game, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien called Hartswick’s presence on the field “an honor.”
“I turned to Glenn Carson and said, ‘Well if this doesn’t motivate us, then I don’t know what does, you know, to get going today,’ ” O’Brien said, “because that was one of the best moments since I’ve been here at Beaver Stadium. That’s one of the best right there.”
Hartswick said nerves got the best of him, saying he wasn’t sure if he would be able to make the walk across the field. But, he said, he channeled his emotions into positive energy.
“I just wish the rest of the veterans could be out there with me,” Hartswick said. “We’re all soldiers with different variations of the same story, but it’s nice to be recognized by a school and community I love.”
He didn’t attend Penn State, but grew up a fan, and his mother is a Penn State graduate, Hartswick said.
Hartswick, 22, a former Army combat medic from Pine Grove Mills, lost his legs in May when he stepped on an improvised explosive device while trying to tend to another wounded soldier from an ambushed U.S. platoon.
Now, with temporary prosthetic legs, it’s an uphill battle in the recovery process, but something Hartswick said he is adjusting to slowly, but surely.
“It helps when you have a good support system, good attitude and technology that can give you legs again,” he said. “It’s not easy, but it’s something I’ll have to get used to.”
The Ford family, of York, hasn’t missed a Penn State home football game this season.
Usually out of the loop with the theme of each game, Geri Ford said this time, her family was ready to honor the troops and was glad the Nittany Lions pulled off a win against Purdue, 45-21.
“I think it’s important that a game or two can be dedicated to honor those who fight for us,” she said. “It’s important to show our support.”
An American flag was hung from the bed of their pickup truck Saturday as it sat in the parking lot near the Bryce Jordan Center. Before every game, the Fords sing the Penn State fight song with other people at their tailgate and bow for a quick prayer.
On Saturday, they sang the national anthem and said the Pledge of Allegiance instead.
Kevin Ford, a Penn State graduate, traded in his Penn State football jersey for a T-shirt that said, “Support our troops.”
His grandfather Gerard DuPont fought in the Korean War in the U.S. Navy. His grandmother Tessa Robison-DuPont was in the WAVES, otherwise known as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
“They’re my only connection to the military, but so many people think that even if you don’t know anyone serving or who served before, that it doesn’t impact you,” Kevin Ford said. “It does anyway, because we live in a country that is always sending our guys out to fight, and that’s a part of America and where we live.”
Other fans were just happy with the win.
“It was good for us. I think we’ll take any win we can get,” said Brian Sylvestri. “The second half was when we really took off and looked pretty good. We’ll see now how we do against Nebraska.”
The university said about 2,500 service members were in attendance among the 96,491 total.