Bellefonte bridge to be renamed
BELLEFONTE — Debra Burger already knows that Friday, July 3, will be an emotional evening for her.
That night, the High Street Bridge in Bellefonte will be renamed Veterans Bridge during a ceremony slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. The ceremony will close out the traditional Logan Fire Company Parade, which begins at 4 p.m.
The re-naming of the bridge has been a long process.
“I had approached the borough back in 2014 about the possible re-naming of the bridge. It was voted on in February of this year,” Burger said.
But it wasn't that simple. Since the High Street Bridge is considered a state road, the state had to approve the name change.
According to Burger, state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, proposed the bill, which made its way through the legislature. It was first passed by the House of Representatives in May and then by the Senate in June. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill just last week.
For Burger, getting the bridge renamed was a project that is very near and dear to her heart.
“I feel that our veterans deserve any type of accolades, any type of thank yous that we can give them. They don't ask for this in any way, shape or form. I feel, as a (United States) citizen, it is our duty to thank them. This is just a small way of doing it,” Burger said.
So why a bridge? Why not a park, or a street? Burger said that choosing a bridge was a relatively easy decision.
“I just thought that anytime someone would drive over or walk over the bridge, they would see the Veterans sign and they would think, 'Oh yeah, the veterans gave me the right to have all the freedoms that I have.' We really have to realize just how many rights and freedoms we have in the United States,” Burger said.
Burger has a lot of ties to the United States military. Her brother, Lewis Smith II, was a major in the Air Force. His plane was shot down on May 30, 1968, as he was flying his first reconnaissance mission in Laos. Burger was 11 years old at the time.
Smith's plane was never recovered. In 1978, he was declared killed in action. To this day, Smith remains one of 1,636 personnel listed by the U.S. Department of Defense as “missing and unaccounted for.”
“The military is very near and dear to my heart,” Burger said. “Both my father and my father-in-law were Army veterans. If you look at every family in Centre County, Pennsylvania and the United States, a veteran has been somewhere in your past. It has impacted every single one of us.”
Once Burger got approval from the borough — and then the state — to rename the bridge, coming up with a time to have the dedication ceremony came next.
Memorial Day didn't work, and with Veteran's Day so far down the road, she came up with the Fourth of July.
“It's the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. That was the war my brother was in. The Fourth of July seemed perfect. This was the year to do it.”
After deciding on a date, Burger spoke with the Logan Fire Company about tying the dedication ceremony and parade together.
“They've been so wonderful and very responsive to this. They have jumped on board with both feet. The parade they are putting together to honor the veterans is just going to be a great thing,” Burger said.
The parade will begin at 4 p.m. at Bellefonte Area High School. It will continue down Bishop Street, turn down Allegheny Street, then go to the Centre County Courthouse before turning down High Street. The veterans will then cross the bridge.
Burger said that is significant.
“Historically, it's the bridge that the veterans would cross to get to the train station and go to battle. It's also the bridge they'd walk across when returning from battle.”
Following the parade, there will be entertainment provided by the Bellefonte Area High School band and the Nittany Highlanders, a bagpipe group.
Burger knows that her emotions will overflow come Friday night.
“When I saw the bronze plaque for the first time, I broke down in tears,” she said. “It's going to be a tough one. I tend to be a little teary-eyed. It's going to be a hard day, but it will be wonderful to see so many of the veterans honored and getting what they truly deserve.”
IF YOU GO
What: Veterans Bridge dedication ceremony
When: 7:30 p.m., July 3
Where: Veterans Bridge (formerly High Street Bridge)
What to wear: Red, white and blue; bring small U.S. flags to wave