CARLISLE, Pa. — Decorated Vietnam War veteran and legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier will be the guest speaker at Carlisle’s community Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday, May 31, the Carlisle Joint Veterans Council announced Monday.
Council president Kirk Wilson said the ceremony will begin at 10:00 a.m. at The Soldiers Walk at the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle.
The event has been moved from Veterans Memorial Courtyard on the Square in downtown Carlisle to the Army’s premier facility in Middlesex Township to meet COVID-19 safety requirements.
“The council would like to thank AHEC officials for opening their arms and welcoming the community to observe Memorial Day there,” Wilson said. “Masks will be required and there is plenty of room to practice six-foot distancing.”
It is suggested that attendees bring chairs or blanket for seating, Wilson said. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held at USAHEC’s Pavilion located near the WWII outdoor exhibit near the Army Heritage Trail.
Without a parade, Wilson said the council decided to look for an exemplary individual to deliver the Memorial Day message.
“A wounded and decorated Vietnam War veteran, who returned home and with dogged, painful determination became an NFL star on the field, fit the description we were looking for,” Wilson said. “Rocky Bleier has served as a mentor and helped thousands of his fellow vets.”
Other participants in the ceremony are the combined Carlisle Town and Carlisle High School bands, Cedar Cliff High School Junior ROTC, the Edward Jay Rykoskey Post #1 Carlisle Vietnam Veterans, Rev. Walter Reed of American Legion Post 826, Carlisle native and former Pittsburgh Steeler Matt Kranchick, the Cumberland County Honor Guard and bugler Dr. Donald Roeder.
Bleier was drafted into the U.S. Army on December 4, 1968. He volunteered for duty in South Vietnam and shipped out for Vietnam in May 1969.
Bleier was wounded in the left thigh by an enemy rifle bullet when his platoon was ambushed in a rice paddy. While he was down, an enemy grenade landed nearby after bouncing off a fellow soldier, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg. He lost part of his right foot in the blast as well.
Bleier was later awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, but was told at the time he would never play football again.
Upon his return to Steelers training camp in 1970, he couldn't walk without being in pain, and weighed only 180 pounds. An offseason training regimen brought Bleier back to 212 pounds in the summer of 1974, and he earned a spot in the Steelers' starting lineup.
In 1976, both Franco Harris and Bleier rushed for over 1,000 yards, making the Steelers the second NFL team to accomplish this feat.
Bleier played in the first four Steeler Super Bowl victories, and caught a touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw that gave Pittsburgh a lead it would never relinquish in Super Bowl XIII. He also recovered Dallas's onside kick in the closing seconds of that game, sealing the Steelers' victory.
Bleier retired after the 1980 season with 3,865 rushing yards, 136 receptions for 1,294 yards, and 25 touchdowns. At the time of his retirement, he was the Steelers' fourth all-time leading rusher.
The annual Memorial Day Ceremony is organized by the Carlisle Joint Veterans Council. The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center joined in making this year’s event a success.