sealPurdue News

September 26, 2002

Astronaut Jerry Ross to read 'I Am An American' at Homecoming

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – On April 16, Jerry Ross was barely awake aboard the space shuttle Atlantis when he heard announcer Roy Johnson launch into "I Am An American" and the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band play "America the Beautiful."

On Saturday (9/28) he'll be sitting right next to Johnson in the announcer's room of Ross-Ade Stadium's new press box delivering the words to "I Am An American" that have been ingrained in his consciousness since he was a student at Purdue in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

On the day Ross got the "I Am An American" wake-up call, he set the United States record for spacewalks with nine. He was flying in outer space for the seventh time, a world record. Honoring that accomplishment was the goal of Purdue University Bands when it invited Ross to be its special guest at Homecoming.

"Even before 9/11, the words to "I Am An American' were circulated around the world by Purdue alums," says Kathy Matter, public relations director for the Purdue Bands. "Purdue Bands' patriotic tradition has become even more special, and more in demand, since 9/11. But it's only because of Jerry Ross, that the words have been beamed into outer space. We honor that, and we honor Jerry Saturday for his accomplishments."

Each day during a shuttle mission, NASA officials play wake-up music that is in some way significant for one of the crew members. Ross says the "I Am An American" wake-up call was planned by his family without his knowledge. They enlisted Johnson's help to make it happen.

"It was a surprise! I was awake, but not yet moving around," Ross recalls.

It was a surprise Ross loved, and NASA caught his reaction on tape.

"Thank you for the great music. I really appreciate it," he said to the world from outer space on April 16. "It's one of the tremendous traditions of Purdue University, the origin of many of our country's astronauts. It really is a nice way to wake up and get ready for No. 9!"

To hear Jerry Ross' wake-up call and his reaction to it live, visit NASA's Web site.

Ross says reminiscing about that moment is a great feeling.

"It brought back good memories of fall football games at Ross-Ade with family and friends," he says. "And I think the rest of the crew was impressed with the words, and to find out that it is a great tradition that goes with Purdue home football games."

Ross has been practicing for the big moment Saturday when he takes the microphone to deliver "I Am An American" to the Homecoming crowd. So fans can see him, "All-American" Band director David Leppla has designed a special spotlight for him during the band's halftime show.

Reflecting Purdue's Homecoming theme of "Victories and Heroes," the halftime show features music by film composer John Williams, including the theme music he wrote for the 1984 Olympic Summer Games, along with themes from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Superman" and "Star Wars."

As the band forms a space ship on the field while performing music from the film "E.T." and "Star Wars," the stadium Jumbotron will show video clips from Ross' April 16 extravehicular spacewalk. Ross will then join the band on the field.

The Purdue "All-American" Marching Band will play an integral part in Homecoming celebrations in many other ways, including:

• 7 p.m. today (9/26) – The Homecoming Parade leaves Ross-Ade Stadium to wind around campus. Band members will light their instruments for the event.

• 3-3:30 p.m. Saturday (9/28) – The band will play on the steps of Hovde Hall.

• 3:35 p.m. Saturday (9/28) – The band will play "Hail Purdue" at the Bell Tower following brief remarks by Purdue President Martin C. Jischke.

• 4-4: 15 p.m. Saturday (9/28) – The band forms on south side of the Elliott Hall of Music to lead a parade of fans to the stadium.

CONTACT: Kathy Matter, (765) 496-6785,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Media interested in interviews should contact Kathy Matter, Purdue Bands public relations director, at (765) 496-6785.

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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