Penn Hills veteran excited for completion of WWII memorial

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

John Vento of Penn Hills can recall the details of his World War II experience down to the smallest detail.

He has been attending reunions with members of his unit, the Army's 478th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, for 60 years, “until we were down to just a handful of guys,” said Vento, 89.

As the number of World War II veterans dwindles, unrecorded memories from “the greatest generation” are lost. Vento and others are working to keep those memories alive through the Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial, which workers began constructing in May on Pittsburgh's North Shore. The World War II Veterans of Southwestern Pennsylvania Memorial Fund, a nonprofit group, has been planning the memorial for nearly a decade.

Vento is member of the group's 13-member executive committee.

“It means a lot,” he said. “We have very nice Vietnam and Korea memorials, and it's only proper that we have a World War II memorial.”

The goal is for the memorial to be finished and dedicated on Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7), “but if it's completed prior to (that), the plan is to dedicate it as soon as possible, because so many World War II vets are passing away,” said committee member Sheila Conley of Oakmont.

Organizers raised the $4 million to build the memorial, Conley said, The Stadium Authority of the City of Pittsburgh have agreed to maintain the memorial in perpetuity, in exchange for the establishment of a $600,000 trust fund, Conley said.

According to Brittany Mahoney, executive director for the fund, an additional $18,000 will meet the fundraising goal, including the maintenance trust fund, and Conley said donations are still being accepted.

“We're continuing to ask for $5 and $10 donations from people, particularly people who have relatives that fought in World War II,” Conley said.

Vento was drafted in 1943, and the 478th was stationed in New Guinea during the run-up to what would have been the Allied invasion of Japan, before transferring to the Philippines.

There, they aided the 182nd Infantry in dislodging Japanese soldiers from a ridge near Lahug, earning both a military commendation and a citation from the president of the Philippines.

In the mid-2000s, Vento was approached by former Superior Court Judge John Brosky, himself a World War II vet who served in the South Pacific. Brosky asked Vento to join the committee and help plan the memorial.

Vento said he can't wait to see the memorial built and unveiled.

“I'm happy to be part of seeing it become a reality,” he said.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845.

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