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McKeesport Veterans Day parade takes a new direction

| Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, 4:06 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Veterans walked with family members in McKeesport's parade.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Preschoolers from the McKeesport Family Center's HeadStart classroom gather along Fifth Avenue to salute local veterans and officials as they pass through town on Monday morning. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
McKeesport Area High School band and colorguard members wave their red, white and blue as they parade on Fifth Avenue in the city's Veterans Day parade. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
McKeesport police lead a procession of local officials and veterans on a Veterans Day parade through the city's downtown on Monday morning. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News

McKeesport Veterans Activities Association took a new approach to its annual Veterans Day activities.

Rather than conduct a service before the parade, as had been the case for several years, Monday's ceremonies began with a parade along a new route.

Organizers said the change relieved time pressure on guests and speakers and fostered a more relaxed atmosphere.

“They don't have to rush off after the service to get into the parade, which is what they were doing every year before,” organizer and mistress of ceremonies Debra Debiak said.

The march began at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Huey Street, continued along Fifth Avenue through Joe Bendel Way, circled under the Jerome Street Bridge and finished in the parking lot near the war memorial, where service took place.

Association treasurer and McKeesport Veterans Honor Guard member Walter Garner lined up participants at the intersection.

“I got asked by a lot of people today why we switched directions,” Garner said. “My most common answer was, ‘I just line you up.' I didn't want to get long-winded.”

Parade participants included the honor guard, McKeesport Area High School marching band, veterans from the Palms at O'Neil, Allegheny County Sheriff's Office officials, city police, firefighters and EMS, Allegheny Intermediate, McKeesport American Legion posts 666 and 361, McKeesport AMVETS Post 8, Port Vue/Liberty Vets, National Order of the Purple Heart, Striffler's Family Funeral Homes, McKeesport council members, Mayor Michael Cherepko, state Sen. James Brewster and former Allegheny County commissioner Larry Dunn.

Post 666 trustee Sam Givens was disappointed by the light turnout.

“People take liberty for granted,” said Givens. “Freedom is not free. You got to get out there and support us.”

“We're trying to make things more interesting,” Debiak said. “We're thankful for anyone who shows up.”

The service began with a moment of silence, followed by the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and an invocation by First Christian Church deacon Raymond Geissler, who also gave the benediction.

Dunn talked about the importance of helping veterans as they transition into civilian life, and noted the military contributions of women.

Garner paid tribute to late Army Cpl. Peter Berletic, who died on Aug. 1 at age 88. Berletic was a McKeesport native who graduated high school through the ROTC program and served during World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action on Sept. 8, 1944 in France, and the Bronze Star for distinctive heroism during military operations against the enemy on March 2, 1945, in Walldorf, Germany.

“Cpl. Berletic successfully took a reading on one artillery battalion to bring effective counter battery fire,” Garner said. “All the while he was overseas, Peter kept a picture of his wife Hilda, who passed away just a few weeks ago.”

Army Staff Sgt. Andre Lewis of South Hills, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, talked about a soldier's mindset in a combat zone.

“The stuff that goes through a soldier's mind becomes survival,” he said. “The only thing that keeps them going is their family and friends back home. The support they get from back home keeps their minds right.”

Lewis urged the gathering to support veterans and thanked soldiers who came before him.

“With their mistakes, it taught us how to be better,” he said. “With their victories, it taught us how to win.”Association secretary Maryann Huk performed “America the Beautiful.”

Givens retired the flag at the memorial. AMVETS Post 8 First Vice Cmdr. Michael Egenlauf placed the new flag, donated by the McKeesport Post Office.

North Braddock AMVETS Post 60 Cmdr. Colt Coleman presented a red, white and blue wreath at the memorial.

Liberty Borough Vets Honor Guard provided a 21-gun salute. The band played taps and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

A reception followed at Post 361. Giant Eagle donated a cake.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or

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