Penn State marks Military Appreciation Day against Army

Members of the Army West Point Glee Club and the Penn State Glee Club sing during half time of the Saturday, October 3, 2015 football game at Beaver Stadium. Penn State won, 20-14.
Members of the Army West Point Glee Club and the Penn State Glee Club sing during half time of the Saturday, October 3, 2015 football game at Beaver Stadium. Penn State won, 20-14. CDT photo

Army veteran and State College Area High School graduate Adam Hartswick grew up a Penn State football fan but chose a different team to cheer for Saturday.

“I have to go with my home team, which is Army,” the Pine Grove Mills native told the CDT during an interview Saturday morning. “Any other time, I’d go with Penn State.”

Penn State played Army West Point in its annual Military Appreciation Day game at a reportedly sold out Beaver Stadium. About 10,000 members of the military and their families were honored during a tailgate party at the Bryce Jordan Center and recognized during halftime of the game.

Two years ago Hartswick, then 22 with his newly prosthetic legs, walked the 50-yard line of the field for the coin toss of that Military Appreciation Day game against Purdue.

Hartswick lost his legs above the knees, his index fingers and part of his thumb May 14, 2013, after stepping on an improvised explosive device while attempting to tend to wounded soldiers in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

He was subsequently treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

While attending each Penn State Military Appreciation Day game since, Hartswick said it means something different to him each year.

“I think the country learned to appreciate the sacrifices, but we never want someone to call us heroes,” Hartswick said, accompanied by his mother, Morgen Hummel, and girlfriend, Sara Bordack. “It’s just humbling and an honor to be here, and you meet new people every year who usually knew people you did while also serving. It’s a small world, but even smaller Army.”

Among the thousands of military personnel was a Hollidaysburg man who played football for Penn State and served in the Army during World War II.

John Young walked into the press room Saturday morning at the Bryce Jordan Center, and with help from his son, Eric, took a seat at a table in the back.

The 87-year-old was hard of hearing, but was able to hear Hartswick when he thanked Young for his service.

The appreciation was returned to Hartswick when Young said, “No son, thank you,” and shook his hand.

Young attended Penn State in the fall of 1945 for one semester before reporting for duty in the war from 1945 to 1949.

Young then came back to Penn State and walked onto the football team in 1949, coached by Bob Higgins.

“I only did that for a season off a dare from the captain,” Young said with a laugh. “And you have to included that I eventually flunked out. There was too much fun going on.”

Young eventually went back to Penn State in 1956, graduated that same year, and became an engineer.

“I don’t go to much games anymore, but it’s been an honor and privilege to be among the other (service) members today,” Young said.

For Military Appreciation Day, the university provided up to three football tickets to each eligible service member and military veteran who applied to be a part of the event.

Michael Wissemann, an Army nurse based out of Fort Belvoir, Va., said if it wasn’t for the program, he and his family wouldn’t have been able to attend the game.

“It’s hard for military members to afford games,” Wissemann said. “Luckily, we were able to get this and bring the kids and enjoy the day. It took us four and a half hours to drive up here through the rain from the hurricane (Joaquin), but well worth it.”

Wissemann served one tour in Iraq and one tour in Kosovo.

Penn State spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said 468 volunteers were on hand to plan and execute the Military Appreciation Day tailgate at the Bryce Jordan Center. The party included lunch; live entertainment from the USO Troops, the Rickey Lee Band, the 28th Division Band and the U.S. Military Academy Glee Club; and the chance for servicemen and women to congregate with each other.