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Elizabeth Merchant Marines get their due

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 4:26 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
From left, Merchant Marine veteran Mike Kemple, state Rep. Rick Saccone and area veterans' post commanders Frank Tignanelli and Rick Elster watch as Elizabeth public works director John Grossi lays the cement for a plaque that will accompany the flagpole on which a Merchant Marine flag will fly after a dedication ceremony on Sunday.

On Thursday, Elizabeth public works director John Grossi ran the backhoe and worked on a concrete monument that accompanies the newest flagpole at the borough honor roll.

“This has been a long time coming for the Merchant Marine,” said Mike Kemple, one of the advocates for adding the pole.

The flagpole, which will be dedicated on Sunday at 1 p.m., will sit behind ones for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.

“We're here to honor the Merchant Marine,” said Rick Elster, a retired Navy lieutenant commander and commander of Elizabeth Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7632.

Elster will serve as master of ceremonies on Sunday. He was at the honor roll near the northbound ramp to the Elizabeth Bridge on Thursday with Kemple, American Legion Post 553 Commander Frank Tignanelli and state Rep. Rick Saccone.

Kemple displayed the flag, which has a Merchant Marine emblem, the inscription “In Peace and War” and 1775, the service's founding date.

“When those who've served our nation during war are formally honored, Merchant Marine sometimes (is) overlooked,” said Saccone, a Republican from Elizabeth Township, who is one of the scheduled speakers. “Merchant Marine certainly (is) worthy of recognition, for they entered dangerous and hostile environments to keep our armed forces supplied.”

Merchant Marine ships carried goods from the United States to Britain and Russia in World War II. One was the SS McKeesport, which was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1943.

During 1944-45 Kemple, 86, of Elizabeth Township served on a Lend-Lease vessel carrying supplies to the Russian Arctic port of Murmansk. He was drafted into the Army and served in Italy.

“I applaud Mike Kemple's dream of establishing a monument,” Saccone said. “Because the property on which the flag and monument stand was owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, it involved a great deal of coordination between state and local governments to make the transfer of land possible.”

Gov. Tom Corbett intervened after meeting Kemple at Saccone's annual veterans picnic. Grossi and other Elizabeth officials played a role, as well.

Council president Monica Glowinski said a plaque accompanying the flagpole will be ready for the ceremony.

Elster said it will include the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer by a local pastor and comments from Saccone.

Kemple said Pittsburgh paramedic Larry Jones will play “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, and Elizabeth Forward High School senior Kevin Scott and freshman Kendrick Berg will play taps.

A luncheon will be served at the Elizabeth fire hall.

Glowinski will lead a delegation of borough officials. She expressed regret that other aspects of the Merchant Marine monument won't be ready in time for Sunday.

“We were unable to do the walkway up to the flag,” she said. “We are going to have the monument and the flagpole ready to go.”

Glowinski suggested a spring ceremony because the ground is susceptible to freezing and thawing. Kemple said the borough has delayed work long enough.

“If we had a staff of multiple people we might have been able to address this sooner,” Glowinski said.

Grossi is the borough's only full-time public works employee, and there is one part-time worker, and their efforts are divided among other tasks, including the continued rehabilitation of Irwin Street, which was damaged by flooding on July 10.

Kemple crossed swords with the borough over donations of trees and shrubs from three area businesses.

“We did not agree to shrubbery,” Glowinski said at the Aug. 27 council meeting. Council vice president Robin Miller said the borough could not afford the cost of maintaining the plants.

Kemple said flower boxes on the other side of the memorial could accommodate shrubbery, and dogwood trees could be planted anywhere on the grounds.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or

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