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Couple honors fallen Army Rangers in Harrison City backyard

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn-Trafford Star Vietnam War veteran James Bell, 66, created a memorial in his Harrison City back yard paying tribute to the fallen from the K Company of the 75th Ranger Infantry Regiment. A formal dedication is planned for Aug. 24.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn-Trafford Star James Bell and his wife, Antoinette, teamed up to build a memorial to the dead from K Company of the 75th Ranger Infantry Regiment in Vietnam from 1967 to 1972.

Fallen Army Rangers who served in Vietnam are honored at a monument at Fort Benning, Ga., and their names are inscribed on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

But James Bell wanted a more personal way to remember the dead from K Company of the 75th Ranger Infantry Regiment.

Over the past year, Bell and his wife, Antoinette, transformed a section of their Harrison City back yard into a memorial to the 51 men from the company who died between 1967 and 1972.

Bell, who was a paratrooper from 1968 to 1970, said he has long desired to separate their names from the more than 58,000 who died in the war.

The serene setting includes memorial bricks of those Rangers who were killed in action, a memorial stone, two benches and a pole from which the U.S. flag and a white flag saying “Lest They Be Forgotten” fly.

“These are my heroes, so I look at these guys as my brothers and family, and I can look at their names any time I want,” said Bell, who knew more than 20 of the fallen.

“I just feel good about it.”

The Bells have scheduled a formal, invitation-only dedication of the memorial for Aug. 24. The ceremony will feature remarks by Congressman Tim Murphy, R-18, a roll call of the 51 names and a military honor guard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 33 in Greensburg.

Bell said the idea for a memorial was forefront in his mind for years as a 25-year career in law enforcement in Las Vegas wound down, but he and his wife wanted to return to Southwestern Pennsylvania rather than build it across the country.

James Bell, a Mt. Lebanon High School graduate, and Antoinette Bell, a Gateway graduate, looked at about 50 homes in the region before deciding to move to a cul-de-sac on Whitetail Drive in 2004.

A contractor began excavation about a year ago after the couple had enough money for the memorial to avoid going into debt. Counting the nearby landscaping, greenery and fencing among the yard improvements, they spent about $39,000 on the project, he said.

They are instructing their three sons, all of whom are veterans, to keep the memorial in place after they die. If they are unable to keep the home in the family's possession, the couple is requesting that their sons donate the memorial stone and bricks to a military charity but leave the rest of the setting undisturbed.

Roger Crunk, the K Company unit director for the 75th Ranger Regiment Association, said he was touched that the Bells created a memorial at their own expense.

Crunk frequently attends services remembering the dead, but he called the Bells' effort “unique.”

“It's a hard thing to do, but we have to do it to remember our fallen brothers,” said Crunk, a Colorado resident who is giving the keynote speech at the dedication. “Sometimes, maybe their families are all gone and somebody has to remember them, and it's appropriate for their brothers to remember and memorialize them.”

Robert Stricklin, the chaplain for VFW Post 33, said the project amazed him. The memorial will be an appropriate place for visitors to say a prayer or reflect on the fallen, he said.

“A lot of us think of our buddies and feel they didn't get enough notice for their sacrifice to their country,” said Stricklin, who served in the Navy in Vietnam.

Though the memorial is behind their home, the Bells don't want the site to be a secret. They welcome well-wishers who want to visit and have a quiet moment there.

Already, some Rangers who live in Ohio and served in another unit stopped there on their way through Westmoreland County, Bell said.

“I'm all for the veterans, and I'm all for the people recognizing the sacrifices because these guys gave a lot.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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