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Traveling memorial coming to McCandless, honors fallen military personnel

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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When the “Field of Flags” was displayed outside Newtown Congregational Church in Newtown, Conn., on May 22, 2009, there were 4,981 flags memorializing the American serviice members killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. More than 6,600 flags will be outside Memorial Park Church in McCandless starting April 6, 2013, when the display makes a local appearance.

There was only one thing for Jaime Dean of Memorial Park Church to do after sending her son off to war: find some activity to work through her worry.

“Right after he left in 2011, I found ways to help myself cope,” said Dean, now director of Community Care for Military, or CCM, at the church at 8800 Peebles Road in McCandless.

While her son Jarret, a 2009 North Allegheny Senior High School graduate, fought in Afghanistan, Dean created an organization to assist local veterans and military families. The Rev. Dean Weaver, lead pastor, and the Rev. Paul Becker Jr., pastor of administration, both with sons in the service, were eager to help her define this new ministry.

The church's latest effort to honor veterans will be the hosting of the “Field of Flags.” A ceremony at 10 a.m. April 6 will dedicate the display of more than 6,600 flags on the church lawn, each remembering a fallen American service member from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This project has kept Dean engaged for the last six months.

“This was a journey of meeting the right people and people embracing the project,” said Dean, 47, of Marshall Township. “God provided the contacts I needed.”

A new church employee had discovered the flag project via email. “Field of Flags” began at Somers Congregational United Church of Christ in Somers, Conn., in 2005. There were 2,231 flags. A list of casualties, by state, was displayed on a name board, showing the name and rank of each American killed. Since then, the flags — in ever-growing numbers — have toured the U.S.

All fallen service members from Pennsylvania — about 300 — will be remembered individually at the Memorial Park ceremony.

“I wanted to read all 6,600 names,” Dean said, “until I realized it would take nine hours.”

Support for the event — and CCM — has grown steadily among local veterans, active military personnel, Gold Star Families and military support groups and agencies.

“It's taken on a life of its own. It's what's driving me,” Dean said.

On April 6, there will be the presentation of colors, a bagpiper, songs and hymns, videos and encouraging words from the pastor. Local dignitaries have been invited to attend.

Cheryl Harris of Cranberry will share her story with the audience.

“We were sitting in the living room on Jan. 2, and there was a knock on the door,” she said.

That night in 2008, her status changed. With just a few words, offered officially and sympathetically, she became a Gold Star Mother. Her eldest son, Ryan Maseth of Shaler Township, an Army Airborne Ranger and Green Beret with the 5th Special Forces Group, had been killed in Baghdad, Iraq. But it wasn't a bullet or an explosive that took his life. He was found dead in the shower, where he was electrocuted while freshening up after a full day of training Iraqis.

Earlier that day stateside, Harris had expressed her concern for Maseth to her youngest son, Adam Maseth, home on leave from the military.

“‘Ryan's safe. He's in the Green Zone,' he told me. ‘It's Brandon (Ryan's twin) you should be worried about'” Harris recalled.

Ryan Maseth had enlisted before September 11, 2001; the others, afterwards, and Brandon Maseth also was in Iraq.

“There's always some fear, some trepidation,” Harris said, “when you're afraid for their safety, afraid of what might happen.”

She said she is thankful for the assistance of Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota in improving electrical equipment at military installations.

“Grieving is a journey,” the 54-year-old said. “It changes a life when you lose a child. You can plan, but God is in control of tomorrow.”

Sharing her family's story at events, such as the upcoming “Field of Flags,” is what she feels led to do.

“This is not just about red, white and blue,” Dean said, “but a message of God's hand, offering hope and a call to live a life of gratitude worthy of that sacrifice.”

The flags are scheduled to remain through May 1.

She hopes the display and ceremony bring healing to those who attend.

“By hosting it, we're bringing a realization to the community that we are at war,” she said. “And for motorists, the public display will be an opportunity to pause, to reflect and be mindful of their sacrifice and to honor that.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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