Derry dedicates $9.9 million bridge to veterans
Robin Baker of Derry lost her brother, Army Sgt. 1st Class Earl Robert Fillmore Jr., during the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia.
He was killed Oct. 3, 1993, at age 28 while serving as a Task Force Ranger medic with the Delta Force 1st Special Forces.
Baker is happy to know that his legacy will be preserved, along with the memory of many others who served, thanks to Friday’s Veterans Day dedication of the Derry Veterans Memorial Bridge, which carries Route 217 over the Norfolk Southern rail tracks.
“I think it’s awesome that they’re doing this in memory of all the soldiers and the fallen,” Baker said as she waited for the dedication parade to makes its way across the bridge.
The $9.9 million project received its name after local veteran groups wrote a letter to Derry Borough Council, according to Chris Johnston, quartermaster for the Chestnut Ridge VFW post in Derry.
“They took the letter and suggested it to (55th District State) Rep. Joe Petrarca,” Johns‑ton said. “It’s to remember those who served before us, those who serve now and those who’ll serve in the future.”
VFW District 27 Commander David Hunter, 71, said its symbolism is important.
“It’s something the community needed,” said Hunter, an Air Force veteran from Oak Grove. “It’s a long time coming.”
Derry Mayor Kevin Gross, an Army and Marine Corps veteran, said Derry has given the nation “its best and brightest.”
“This bridge could have been named for an uncle who never came back, a grandfather who became your best friend after returning from his tour,” Gross said. “All of us could have named it for someone. And that’s why it’s named for all.”
A second bridge, connecting Scottdale to Everson, will be dedicated at 11 a.m. today as the Pfc. Joseph Anthony Petrarca/Staff Sgt. John William Earnesty Memorial Bridge.
Petrarca and Earnesty died in action during the Vietnam War.
Cliff Cramer, 69, of Derry is an Army veteran and a survivor of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. He said the dedications are great to see.
“We’re honored to have a veterans’ bridge,” he said. “It means a lot.”
The parade through Derry included a group of veterans along with the high school band and football team, local dignitaries and the American Legion Riders.
In his remarks following the parade, Rep. Petrarca noted that Pennsylvania has nearly 1 million veterans, the fourth-highest number of any state in the country.
“It’s very fitting that we do this for our veterans today because, without them, none of this would be possible,” he said.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 724-850-2862 or [email protected].