McKeesport's Flag Day ceremony celebrates history of 'Old Glory'
It is something that millions pledge allegiance to every day, and hundreds of thousands of men and women have died for — the American flag.
The significance, symbolism and history of “Old Glory” were celebrated on Saturday at McKeesport's Palisades.
Lifelong McKeesporter Clifford Flegal Sr. led the Flag Day service, as he has done for the past 44 years.
“I think he has red, white and blue in his veins, and hopefully he will have many more of these ceremonies as we go along,” McKeesport council president Darryl Segina said of Flegal.
Co-chair James G. Calvin, past commander of American Legion Post 361 and president of McKeesport Veterans Activities Association, told the crowd about the eight flags that have flown over U.S. soil, from the pine tree and snake flags to the modern stars and stripes.
“The evolution of the American flag marks the progression of the government of the American people,” Calvin said.
The flag's 13 alternating red and white stripes represent the original colonies that declared independence from Great Britain, and the blue rectangle bears 50 stars, representing each state.
“It has waved over the unparalleled progress of a nation in developing democratic institutions, scientific and technological knowledge, education and culture,” Calvin said. “It has served as a beacon for millions of poor and oppressed refugees abroad, and stands as a promise that the underprivileged will not be forgotten.”
The Rev. F.B. Lachowicz delivered the invocation and benediction.
Vocalist Mary Ann Huk elegantly performed the national anthem and “God Bless America.”
U.S. Naval Reserve Readiness Center sailors posted the colors, and Port Vue American Legion Post 447 and Liberty Borough Veterans Association provided a rifle squad.
Port Vue Mayor Brien Hranics led attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance and a poetry reading.
State Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, and former Allegheny County commissioner Larry Dunn thanked the veterans for their service and for fighting to make the flag the world's greatest symbol of freedom.
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko's chief of staff Matt Gergely accepted a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol in May, donated by Congressman Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.
It will fly in McKeesport in honor of all veterans, and was dedicated to two of them.
Robert J. “Ace” Gaska, who passed away last year, was a Naval hospital apprentice who served during World War II. He retired as a pipe inspector at the US Steel National Tube Works.
He was represented at Saturday's service by his daughter-in-law Patti Gaska.
The late Army veteran Jan. G. Pomnian earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam, and was and was a member of Hopewell VWF Post No. 8805 and a retired employee of Northwest Airlines with 40 years of service.
He was represented by his sister-in-law Janet Flegal.
McKeesport Area High School students Anthony Kilbert and Casey Wash played taps to conclude the ceremony.
Clifford Flegal said attendance at the annual Flag Day celebration has gone down through the years.
“Each event seems to dwindle,” Flegal said. “There's less and less of my old friends. Either they're sick or they have died, and the young people just don't care.”
He said he intends to do his part to keep the tradition alive.
“I'm going to try and keep it going, even if I'm 93 years old,” Flegal said.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.