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Sailor's Mom, Friends of Military, Create Special Patriotic Day

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2003 – March 5 was a special patriotic day across the country and aboard Navy ships in the Arabian Gulf.

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Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Pester lowers the American flag at sunset, the end of another day aboard USS Constellation, currently stationed in the Arabian Gulf. Pester's mother, Jerri Haaven-Pester, was the national coordinator the National Anthem Project, a coordinated effort for simultaneous broadcast of the National Anthem on March 5, 2003. Photo by Seaman Sean T. Blake, USN.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

That was the day hundreds of radio stations nationwide and sailors and Marines aboard Navy ships simultaneously played and sang the National Anthem.

The worldwide simultaneous playing of the National Anthem was coordinated by Jerri Haaven-Pester, the mother of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Pester, a signalman aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation, currently steaming the Arabian Gulf. She timed the project to coincide with the end of the carrier battle group's dinner hour.

"We were hoping that all members of our armed forces would be able to watch and listen to America's show of support," said Haaven-Pester, editor and communications coordinator for Raising Special Kids in Scottsdale, Ariz.

More than 40 states participated, 29 of which had their own designated statewide coordinator, Haaven-Pester noted. She said more than 1,500 radio stations across the nation participated, as did radio stations at the North Pole and in Kuwait. American Forces Radio and Television Service, which has broadcast outlets in more than 170 different countries, also participated.

They were backed up by fire stations playing the anthem, churches tolling bells, and schools, colleges and universities observing a moment of silence. Many newspapers printed a daily edition with a photograph of the American flag.

Haaven-Pester said James A. Petrea, mayor of Thunderbolt, Ga., proclaimed March 5 as "National Anthem Project Day" in support of American troops worldwide. He encouraged mayors around the country to do the same, and in his proclamation said, "It's our wish and desire to also honor and support all soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and other military personnel worldwide -- especially those who are in harm's way."

He encouraged radio stations nationwide to play the National Anthem simultaneously on March 5 at 9 a.m. MST, and "at the same time we encouraged students and teachers to pause and address the flag and remember our armed forces."

"What my mother did was great," said Petty Officer Pester. "It's nice to see that we have the support of so many people back home, when all we see is protests on TV. It's things like this that help us get through the day."

"It hasn't been easy being out to sea, especially now with what's going on in the world, for me, and especially for my family," said shipmate Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob "Jake" Ortegon. "Our families should earn and get some honors and medals, too." His wife Minnie, son, Nick, 11, and daughter, Jackie, 3, are in San Antonio, Texas, while he's aboard the "Connie" in the Arabian Gulf.

Ortegon was on watch when the anthem was played. "I did get a little choked up with pride while they played the anthem," he said. "I knew that for one brief moment, my whole family was in connection with me.

"We're not mad at the nonsupporters back home, because they have their rights, too," he said. "It's those rights that we preserve out here for them and the rest of the nation. It's too bad they don't see what we know out here. But I hope they at least honored the playing of the National Anthem.

"It makes the blood pump harder and stronger," he said. "It made me say, don't worry mom and dad, don't worry family -- wife and two kids - - I'm very good at what I do. Daddy is on the watch. Daddy isn't going to lose. Daddy will come home. Daddy loves you!"

A group of sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa sang the National Anthem a cappella on the bridge. Kathy Wiskur, who coordinated the project with Haaven-Paster, asked Chief Petty Officer Donald P. Robertson to make arrangements on the Tarawa.

"That day I wanted to be anywhere but on the Tarawa," Robertson wrote in an e-mail message. "I wanted to be at home, with Kim and the kids, with my family, with my church and with my small group. I wanted to go home and forget I had ever been here. I guess I was homesick."

Robertson's attitude changed when the chaplain stepped to the ship's intercom system and asked the crew to feel the love from back home while Americans across the country joined in and sang the National Anthem.

"On the dark bridge of a naval fighting ship, about 50 miles from the hottest place on Earth, on a quiet night, three voices came from heaven to the Tarawa and sang the National Anthem," Robertson said. "It was amazing. Two guys and one girl reminded us what we were here for. This was bigger than winning an award in the Olympics, bigger than the beginning of a baseball game, bigger than any Fourth of July picnic.

"We're here to fight for the freedom of our country and the freedom of others, to give our loves if necessary," he said. "I cried. At that moment, I didn't want to be anywhere but in the dark on Tarawa, in the Arabian Gulf."

Haaven-Pester said the project was so successful and well received that she and the regional coordinator for five southern states, Carol Gibson, are planning more projects to bolster support for troops, under the name of "Liberty Belles of America."

"We'd like to do another simultaneous broadcast of the National Anthem on the first Wednesday of each month at 0911 Mountain Standard Time, followed by reading a letter from one of the guys or gals from the front," Haaven-Pester said. "I think it's really important for Americans to hear the voices of those serving their country."


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Click photo for screen-resolution image"I think it's really important for Americans to hear the voices of those serving their country," said Jerri Haaven-Pester, a former U.S. Army specialist, who was national coordinator the worldwide simultaneous playing of the National Anthem on March 5, 2003. Photo courtesy Jerri Haaven-Pester.   
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