By Elizabeth Perry
Former Pittsburgh Steeler legends Rocky Bleier and Jon Kolb will mingle with veterans during a Veterans Support Day event scheduled for March 26 at VFW Post 418 in McKees Rocks.
Throughout the 1970s, Kolb helped the Steelers to win four Super Bowls alongside teammate and fellow veteran Bleier.
“I’m so fortunate to share the day with John Kolb, he was in the reserves, he does such a tremendous job in helping veterans rehab their physical needs to be productive,” Bleier said.
Bleier got involved with Veterans Support Day because he and event organizer Edward P. Carter III have a long history of working together on events that benefit other vets.
“I think it’s so very important. It’s a recognition of veterans,” Bleier said.
Famously, Bleier was drafted after his rookie season with the Steelers and went to Vietnam in 1969. During the battle of Hiep Douc, Bleier was shot in the leg while he and his company were moving through an open rice paddy field. After he got shot, things got worse.
“A hand grenade went flying through the air, hit my commanding officer. It bounced off his back. By the time I got to jump up, I was hit for the second time,” Bleier said.
Bleier was treated in the field, then at an aid station. He was shipped to Denang and then spent time recovering at a Tokyo hospital. Bleier describes his injuries with a humble pragmatism.
“OK, as a kid, as an athlete playing sports, injuries are always part of that game. Growing up you had sprained ankles, twisted knees. I didn’t lose a leg, I didn’t lose a limb. I was damaged but we all had injuries before. Then you’re back out playing in the backyard,” Bleier said.
When Bleier got up the courage to ask his doctor if he could return to the gridiron, the physician said Bleier would likely recover enough to have a normal life, but he couldn’t expect to play in the NFL again.
“As my authority figure in my life, he kind of sucked that hope right out. Two days later, I got a postcard in the mail,” Bleier said.
The postcard was from Art Rooney, owner of the Steelers, telling Bleier the team wasn’t doing so well without him.
“Oh, somebody needed me. They didn’t need me, but they took the time to care. I did come back,” Bleier said.
Bleier understands that a simple act of consideration can go a long way in helping a veteran regain his or her place in the civilian world.
“I find myself at times, hopefully, a vocal cheerleader to make awareness to what is happening within communities for veterans,” Bleier said.
Along with a chance to meet both Bleier and Kolb, a free brunch for a veteran and their guest will be provided at the March event. Local musicians “The Doo Wop Doctors” are set to perform, and attendees will get the opportunity to connect with area not-for-profit veterans groups.
“This is going to be the coolest event McKees Rocks has seen in a long time,” said Carter, a veterans service officer and junior vice commander with VFW 418.
The celebration is designed to connect area veterans with one another and let them know about the benefits to which they’re entitled. VFW service officers will also be on hand at the event.
“So you can start your claim right there,” Carter said.
To that end, Kolb’s Adventures in Training for a Purpose will be at the event. Kolb founded the organization in 2015 to help veterans and first responders recover both physically and psychically from trauma. Though the organization has a stated Christian message, they offer free help to first responders and vets from all faith denominations, representative Sarah Kolb said.
“ATP serves anyone who wants to restore their quality of life and improve mental and physical wellness regardless of religion,” Sarah Kolb said via email.
They offer psychotherapy, mindfulness and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to help vets recover from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition to physical training to regain strength, the program also offers opportunities for outdoor activities and trips.
UPMC is sponsoring the event, providing food, a parking shuttle and t-shirts. Local business owners will also be donating baskets for raffle.
Veterans Support Day will take place at VFW Post 418, 1242 Chartier Ave., McKees Rocks on Sunday, March 26, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.