(this article was written for and appeared in the Aug. 13, 2016 issue of the Hometown Focus of Virginia, Minnesota)
Baseball is a very American thing. So is honoring our veterans.
For every home game at Target Field, the Twins select a veteran to raise the flag during the Star Spangled Banner. At the game against the Atlanta Braves on July 26, 2016, that honor fell to John Pagliaccetti, retired Mt. Iron school district teacher, and his grandson Ryan Rossman. Mr. Pagliaccetti served in Korea, discharged as a sergeant first class. Major Rossman, still on active duty, has been deployed twice to the Middle East. Proud family members and friends were there to and share in the pride of the night. When I saw the event listed on Facebook, I knew I had to go.
In 1963-64, John Pagliaccetti was my fourth grade teacher in Parkville. People ask me who my favorite teachers were, and the name Pagliaccetti comes instantly to lips. My classmates and I recall an exciting, enthusiastic teacher, whether he was in the front of the classroom delivering a science lesson or playing baseball with us on the playground. I became a teacher, influenced in part from Mr. Pagliaccetti.
From my home in Brainerd, I caught the North Star train in Big Lake, headed for Target Field. When the train stopped at the Ramsey station, I looked out the window to see several Pagliaccetti family members boarding the train – John Pagliaccetti, his wife Loretta, their daughter Sandi Scott and her husband Tim, and their daughter Abby. In a lucky turn, they boarded the same car I was riding. We greeted each other with smiles, hugs and introductions. I learned that it was Abby who had arranged for the day. Abby, a music teacher in the Cities, had led a group of students who sang at the stadium awhile back, and when she saw how the Twins honored veterans, she thought of her grandfather and her brother, and how it would be so grand to have them selected for that duty. She completed the necessary paperwork, and the rest was all set. Then she posted the event on Facebook, and that’s how I learned about it. I asked if I could take pictures, and that’s how I got to be there.
The train pulled into the stadium with plenty of time. We found our way through the concourse of the stadium to our seats, where more friends and relatives joined the group, including my sister and brother-in-law Cher and Ger Anderson, who were students of Mr. Pagliaccetti as well.
Abby had instructions for us to meet at the flagpole at 6:30. Once there, Mark, the Twins official in charge, described what would happen, and that he’d be the cameraman – meaning that images would be on the huge jumbotron screen. As the time neared, Mark arranged the two veterans at the foot of the pole, with the family in a line extending from the flagpole. The flag was spread out among the family and friends and then connected to the flagpole cable. As a local church choir began singing the Banner, Ryan started cranking the handle that winched the flag up the pole as John guided it from the hands of those standing alongside. When the flag reached the peak of the flagpole, John and Ryan raised their eyes and saluted the flag, grandson and grandfather side by side.
Cheers arose as the anthem concluded. The family shook hands and embraced in prideful hugs. Mark arranged for family pictures around the flagpole, allowing those of us with cameras to take more shots as well. We returned to our seats to take in the Twins/Braves game and to visit and enjoy the evening.
There was another bonus on the night. Mark arranged for John and Loretta to be part of the Kiss Cam tradition at the stadium. In the break during the sixth inning, cameramen all around the stadium focused on couples as they kissed, their images appearing larger than life on the jumbotron. Several couples appeared on the screen, including a few couples from the Pagliaccetti group. The best couple of the night, saved for last, was John and Loretta Pagliaccetti as they kissed and then embraced in front of the nearly 27,000 fans in the stands. The ovation they received would almost rival any Iron Range celebration of similar joy.
Though the game ended in a Twins loss, we returned to the train, where we again ended up on the same car, and then saying goodbye with more smiles and hugs and handshakes. What a wonderful way to honor our veterans, and what a way for me to honor a teacher I so much respect.
John Pagliaccetti and his wife Loretta recently moved to Champlin to be near family. They have lived in Parkville, Mt. Iron and Buhl. Mr. Pagliaccetti graduated from Chisholm in 1950 and then joined the army, where he served one year in Korea. Loretta graduated from Hibbing in 1952. The two married in 1953. They have 3 children; Sandy, Gary and Debra.
Major Ryan Rossman, Sandy’s son, graduated from Chisholm in 1997. He attended St. John’s, where he was part of the ROTC program. He has been deployed twice to the Middle East over the years. Ryan is a brigade operations officer and works out of the Bloomington armory. Major Rossman is married to Andrea and they reside in Brooklyn Park with their 3 children: John, Lia and Grace.