Brookline Honor Roll Dedication
August 31, 2019
At high noon on Saturday, August 31, 2019, the Brookline Historical Society hosted a ceremony at the Brookline Veteran's Park and War Memorial to dedicate a bronze Honor Roll plaque listing the fifty-six soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that lost their lives during the conflicts of the 20th Century (World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam).
On a pleasant summer afternoon, well over 100 people paid homage to Brookline's fallen heroes in a solemn, well-orchestrated ceremony that included some individual military history, personal recollections, several gestures of national pride and a few symbolic visual and audio treats.
The show began with the Boy Scout Troop #6 Color Guard presenting the colors, followed by a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem sung by Mark Byars. After that, the Cub Scouts of Pack #601 led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Master of Ceremonies Clint Burton then gave some background on the Honor Roll project led by himself and Doug Brendel.
Several elected officials were in attendance, and each came to the podium to say a few words. This was followed by Burton recanting some historical anecdotes on several of the soldiers listed on the memorial, then inviting some family members to the podium to speak on behalf of their loved ones. Each speaker stepped forward with a compelling story to honor their fallen relative.
The Keystone Young Marines then performed the Missing Man Table Ceremony, followed by a reading of the fifty-six names. After each name a bell was rung, and when the list was complete it was time to unveil the plaque. Dennis Meisner and Pat Fagan came forward to do the honors.
Once revealed, Commander Chuck Labby of American Legion Post #540 and fellow Legionaire Rick Erisman came forward to lay ceremonial wreaths next to the memorial, followed by a three-shot volley by an Honor Guard from Vietnam Veterans Incorporated. Korean War veteran Carmen Vacca then blew taps. After a few final words of thanks for some indivduals who were instrumental in helping to bring the Honor Roll Project to fruition, the ceremony was concluded.
Several family members then gathered around the plaque, each taking turns saying a prayer for their loved ones and snapping photos. The Fagan family, relatives of Lt. Gerald B. Fagan, were by far the most well-represented, with fifteen members gathering on the steps for a group photo. All things considered, it was a wonderful occasion for everyone in attendance, and great day for the community of Brookline.
The Brookline War Memorial
The Brookline Veteran's Park and War Memorial sits on a triangular island along Brookline Boulevard, bordering Queensboro and Chelton Avenues. In 1905 the Freehold Real Estate Company erected an office on the land which, for nearly three decades, was used as it's base for the sale of property in the growing community of Brookline.
In 1919 the first memorial was placed on the land, a small bronze tablet honoring those local servicemen that fought in the Great War. The real estate office was closed in 1932 during the Depression and the land was sold, two years later, to local businessman James McGaffin. The triangle was then transfered to the City of Pittsburgh with the provision that it be designated as a memorial park.
The first addition to the new Veteran's Memorial Park was a white marble bench with the original bronze tablet attached. It was dedicated in 1935. In the next few years, a surplus artillery piece was added, along with a flag pole and several modifications to the landscape, including a retaining wall, metal fencing and concrete pavement.
The original cannon was melted down as scrap metal during World War II, and replaced in 1946 by the current howitzer. The white marble bench was replaced with a pink polished granite bench in 1995. Attached to the bench were two bronze plaques honoring all military veterans.
The park remained basically the same for the next two decades, until the reconstruction of Brookline Boulevard in 2013/2014 gave the triangle a facelift, with new expanded sidewalks and landscaping. Which brings us to August of 2019, and the replacement of the steps that form the base of the memorial bench, and the addition of the new Brookline Honor Roll plaque.
Background - The Honor Roll Project
The Honor Roll Project had its roots in the yearly Memorial Day Parade. In 2010, Clint Burton attended the opening ceremony at the park and inquired as to whether anyone in attendance knew what individuals were being honored on that holiday. Surprisingly, no one knew the answer. A couple of names were mentioned, but there was not a complete listing of local casualties anywhere to be found. Further inquiries with veteran's organizations led nowhere.
Considering that most communities have some sort of monument or memorial honoring their local servicemen with a complete listing of names, Brookline was lacking in that regard. It seemed appropriate to take some sort of action to rectify that problem, not only to acknowledge those that were being honored on future Memorial Days, but for the community's historical record.
It was at this point that Burton, along with fellow community historian Brendel, began the Honor Roll Project. Their goal was to identify a complete listing of local servicemen who fell during the various conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond. The work began in April 2011 with an accounting of World War II deaths by checking casualty listings in every Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette from December 7, 1941 to June 30, 1946. This uncovered forty-six names.
The same was done for World War I, adding three more names to the list. An archive of Brookline Journals from the Korean War years revealed an additional four names. Online sources and personal recollections of Brookline residents led to another three names from the war in Vietnam. By the grace of God, there have been no further casualties in the subsequent War on Terror in the Persian Gulf region and Afghanistan.
In all, fifty-six names were found, then verified through military archives. Clint then researched each of the servicemen individually and wrote a short story about their experiences both before and during the war in which they served. When possible, the families of the deceased were contacted to obtain more information and photos. By this time seven years had passed since the project began. A temporary vinyl banner was made to be placed at the cannon on Memorial Day.
The end goal of the entire process was to erect a permanent bronze plaque at the Veteran's Memorial Park listing all of the names of these local heroes. To this end, Doug designed the Honor Roll plaque and prepared a presentation for the city planning and arts commission. His hard work paid off when, in May of 2019, he was granted the necessary municipal approvals to have the plaque placed in the park.
Burton then conducted a community-wide fundraising campaign to raise the necessary capital to have the plaque cast at Matthews Bronze. On August 28 the memorial was completed, delivered and installed by the City of Pittsburgh's DPW Construction Crew.
From that Memorial Day Parade on May 31, 2010 until August 31, 2019, it had taken slightly over nine years to complete the Honor Roll project. It is with profound satisfaction that the Brookline Historical Society can now assure that on every Memorial Day that follows, everyone in attendance will know who it is that they are there to honor, and the sacrifices of these brave men will never be forgotten.
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.
Preparing For Dedication Day
Enough funds were raised by July 10, 2019 to purchase the plaque. An order was placed with Matthews Bronze for a 48 X 24 memorial designed by Brendel himself. While the design approval and casting process went on, a meeting was held at the park with DPW superintendent Richard DeCarlo and construction crew foreman Tom Samstag, both local residents. Discussed was the deinstallation of the existing veterans plaque, to be reinstalled on the opposite side of the granite bench, and the installation of the new Honor Roll plaque in it's place on the front side.
Joe Nellis, one of the bolunteer caretakers of the cannon area, was present at the meeting and asked if some of the cracked and broken sections of the eighty-four year old step base of the granite bench could be repaired. Both Richard and Tom both suggested that the steps be completely replaced. After receiving approval from the city for the replacement, the construction crew went to work right away. It took a couple days to tear out the old cement base, build the forms, install rebar and pour the concrete. The new steps looked great.
In addition to the new step base, Allegheny Electric was dispatched to install a long awaited electrical outlet for the park. Michelle Underwood and Clint Burton planted new flowers in the planter to the rear of the granite bench, and Robert Daley painted the etched letters "Lest We Forget" in brown paint to match the color of the plaques. Navy Vietnam Veteran Dan McKeever, another volunteer park caretaker, painted the metal railing that surrounds the area and nearby resident Rich Pintor performed some concrete repairs around the base and on the cement patio.
Nearing the end of August everything was ready at the park when the call was received that the plaque casting was complete and that the memorial was ready for pickup. The plaque was installed on Wednesday, August 28, then covered in plastic to be unveiled on Dedication Day. Historians and project leaders Clint and Doug couldn't resist the urge to have their picture taken in front of the memorial plaque that had been their goal for the past nine years.
Dedication Day Photos
Rehearsing Before The Gathering Crowd
At High Noon It Was Time For The Show To Begin
The Faces Of The Fallen
* Click on the name to read a short biography of each serviceman. *
The Missing Man Table Ceremony
The Missing Man Table Ceremony is a military tradition that is often performed at reunions to honor and pay respect to comrades-in-arms that never returned from war, those that were killed, are still missing or were taken prisoner. The ceremony is steeped in symbolism and is a fitting tribute that can bring tears to the eyes of those that witness it.
At our Honor Roll plaque dedication, it seemed appropriate to perform the ceremony to honor the fifty-six soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that did not return home. The Keystone Young Marines were called upon to stage the tribute, and they put on a splendid show. Standing at the table were Young Marine L/Cpl Antony Babeaux and Young Marine Pfc Kohlton Adomaitis. Presenting the ceremonial items was Young Marine Pvt Evan Wigfall and reading from the podium was Young Marine Cpl Dakota Arroyo.
Every item in the presentation is symbolic. The White Table Cloth draped on the small table shows the frailty of one lone prisoner against his or her captors and the purity of their intentions to answer our country's call. The vase and single red rose signify the blood that was shed to ensure our freedom and reminds us of the many families and friends who keep the faith while waiting their return.
The red ribbon tied to the vase represents the red ribbons worn on the lapels of the many veterans who demand a proper account of those who are not among us. An empty plate is laid on the table and there is an empty chair. These signify that the missing man is not present to share a meal with his comrades. A slice of lemon is then placed on the plate to remind us of their bitter fate, and salt is also sprinkled on the plate to remind us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.
A POW/MIA flag is draped over the empty chair and a glass is placed inverted on the table to remind us that the missing man can not toast with his comrades. A candle is placed on the table and lit. It burns the light of hope which lives in our hearts to illuminate the missing man's way home, away from their captors to the open arms of a forever grateful nation. Finally, the folded American flag reminds us of the many men and women of the armed forces that have paid the supreme sacrifice to ensure our freedom.
Special Thanks To Those That Helped
There were so many people that contributed to this special occasion, both during the research phase and in the days leading up to the actual plaque installation and dedication. Dr. Michael Brendel was instrumental in helping with the research by providing access to several online applications used to identify and document the history of our fallen servicemen. Several of the individual families also helped in the documentation process by sharing photos, service records and personal memories. The Arts and Planning Commissions were quite helpful with their suggestions for design improvements and eventual approval of the honor roll presentation.
The following individuals and entities
helped us to reach our fundraising goal to purchase the plaque and cover the
incidental costs of preparing the Veteran's Park for dedication day:
We would also like to thank the following individuals for volunteering in other ways to help make our dedication day a success. Caitlin McNulty (Brookline Together) and Councilman Anthony Coghill for their unwavering support during the plaque approval process. Moira Kaleida, Jarrod Herschk, Duane L. Ashley and the Citiparks Special Events for their logistical support. Michelle Snyder and Eric Resch at Matthews Bronze. Dan McKeever for his efforts in refurbishing and painting the railings around the memorial and some touch-up work on the cannon. Rich Pintor for cement work around the monument and along the stone walls. Mickey Underwood-Trapolsi for planting new flowers in the memorial planter. Kimberly Sabol and Boy Scout Troop #6 for upkeep of the flower bed. Robert Daley for painting the engraved letters "Lest We Forget" on the back of the granite memorial. Brookline Teen Outreach for printing the program brochures. Richard DeCarlo, James Dinkel, Tom Samstag and the DPW Construction Crew for replacing the steps at the base of the monument and for the plaque installation. This was a group effort!
Lastly, we want to acknowledge those that participated in and helped document our ceremony. Thanks to Scoutmasters Fred Metting, Steve Tarrant and the Boy Scout Troop #6 Color Guard (Christian Tarrant, Zach Miller, Brandon DeLancey, Jason Sippey and Alex Fisher), Scoutmaster Jayson Orpel and Cub Scout Pack #601, Congressman Mike Doyle, State Senator Wayne Fontana, State Representatives Harry Readshaw, Dan Miller and Dan Deasy, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, City Councilman Anthony Coghill, the Keystone Young Marines (Retired Marine Sgt. and Vietnam Veteran John Donley, YM Cpl Dakota Arroyo, YM L/Cpl Anthony Babeaux, YM Pfc Kohlton Adomaitis, YM Pvt Evan Wigfall, YM Sgt Dmitri Woods, YM Pvt Joshua Budd and YM Pvt Shayne Sage), the Honor Guard from Vietman Veterans Inc. (Chuck Giovannitti, Rich Ebert, Tommy Cusick, Ted Turek, Butch Burke, Tom Holzer and John Weinheimer Jr.), bagpipe player Mike Mohorovich, photographers Amy Fisher and Bob Hayes, videographer Michael Anania, and the families of the fallen that attended our ceremony.
To the best of my knowledge, the following relatives of the men on our Honor Roll were present: Maude McDowell and her daughter Betsy McCabe (sister and niece of Alexander Mayberry), Marilyn Keener, Ron Shorts and Larry Gorman (sister and nephews of Patrick Gallagher), Elvera Esposito and her daughter Leisa Esposito (sister and niece of Frank Dornetto), Chuck Cullison (nephew of Tommy Cullison), Dennis Meisner (Walter Meisner), Robert and Tim Reitmeyer (nephews of John Reitmeyer), Margie Cronin (niece of Michael Mahoney), Pat and Michelle Fagan (nephew and niece of Gerald Fagan) along with several other family members, Chet and Dale Collins (brothers of James Collins) and Bernice Wonn-Votas (sister of James Wonn).
* Photos provided by Clint Burton, Doug Brendel, Amy Fisher (Pawsburgh Photography) and Bob Hayes Photography *
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