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Plum woman organizes event to honor local veterans

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

Jo Ann Kelly is proud of her husband's 21 years of military service.

Ira Kelly's experiences made such an imprint on his wife's life that Jo Ann Kelly, 78, of Plum joined The Retired Enlisted Association that works to protect retirement benefits of military personnel who spent their careers in the armed forces, according to the organization's website.

“(Military service) is a great way of life,” Jo Ann Kelly said.

Ira and Jo Ann Kelly plan to tell their stories to members of the community during an event to honor local veterans Monday at the Plum Borough Community Library.

Borough resident Elizabeth Kim, 36, who conducts a weekly life-writers course at the library has organized the event called “Share a Pair of Stories.”

Kim said the idea for the program honoring veterans originated from StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives, according to the group's website.

Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 45,000 interviews with nearly 90,000 participants.

The theme for last year's National Day of Listening on Nov. 23 was honor a veteran by asking more about their experience.

Kim said there wasn't an opportunity to conduct the program at the library in November.

Instead, she decided to organize the program for President's Day on Monday.

“We wanted to do it on a day that school kids could go, and they are off on President's Day,” Kim said.

Kim contacted the elementary schools in Plum about the program. Children are being asked to express their appreciation to veterans by writing thank-you notes or making cards that will be displayed at the library.

Veterans who participate in the event may take home a card or note of their choice.

The remaining cards will be displayed throughout the week and donated to an area VA hospital.

“Mainly, we want the veterans to feel appreciated and feel their stories are still important,” Kim said.

“And we want the children to understand the different jobs that people do.”

Ira and Jo Ann Kelly are members of Kim's life-writers course.

Ira Kelly, 66, served in the Army from 1964 through 1985 including four years during the Vietnam War.

Ira Kelly was a combat-helicopter crew chief.

His aircraft was shot down by the North Koreans during his stint from 1967-71.

During that time, he was held captive.

“I was a prisoner of war for one year and 128 days,” Ira Kelly said. “The Lord took care of me.”

After his release, Ira Kelly served an additional year in the military.

In addition to telling his story, Ira Kelly plans to tell youngsters to get a college education.

Jo Ann Kelly said she is proud of her husband's accomplishments.

Ira Kelly continues to work with veterans in the adult day care at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System in Aspinwall.

“Choose a military career,” Jo Ann Kelly said is her advice to youngsters.

“There is more than one way to serve.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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