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Military banner program in Whitehall offers spotlight for veterans

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 9:06 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the South Hills Record
Whitehall public works employees Bob Och (left) and Rich Cass hang a portrait of US Army veteran John C. Lewis at Eat n' Park in Whitehall.
Randy Jarosz | For the South Hills Record
Whitehall council member Linda Book carries veteran signs to the next location at Eat n' Park in Whitehall.
Randy Jarosz | For the South Hills Record
Charles Giovannitti of Whitehall tells about his time in the US Navy while a memorial sign is erected in his honor, outside Eat n' Park in Whitehall.

Patrons at the Whitehall Eat'n Park on Route 51 stopped in the parking lot early Monday morning and began to point and stare.

As banners bearing the names and faces of 10 military veterans, surrounded by patriotic symbols, were erected along lamp posts throughout the parking lot, passers-by couldn't help but converse about the recognition of America's servicemen and women.

“It's a way for people to remember them on a daily basis,” said Whitehall Councilwoman Linda Book, who helped bring the military-banner tribute program to the borough. “It's right there looking at them.”

Whitehall joins at least 15 other communities across Allegheny and Washington counties, which include Bethel Park, Bridgeville, Carnegie, South Park and West Mifflin, in a military-banner program meant to recognize the country's servicemen and women, said Harry Munson, owner of Castle Shannon-based HTM Designs, who designed the banners and helped to promote the project across the region.

“It's a nice program,” he said. “It's something that should have been done a long time ago.”

Michael Warhold, founder and president of the Castle Shannon Revitalization Corp. and vice president of Castle Shannon council, brought the idea for the banner project to the region.

Warhold said he saw banners that honored the military in Lock Haven and wanted to do something to keep the military on the forefront of people's minds in Western Pennsylvania.

The program started in Castle Shannon in June 2009. That July, Marine Sgt. Ryan Lane died in combat in Afghanistan, and the first banner was hung in his honor.

“It's for all veterans, past and present,” Warhold said.“It's a reminder of what they've done for us.”

There are more than 200 banners now hanging on lamp posts on roads in Castle Shannon, Warhold said.

“It's a constant reminder that these men and women are over there keeping us free,” Warhold said.

Each person with a banner has a story, Warhold said.

Families often gather beneath a banner for photos, to share stories and cry together, he said.

Banners recognize soldiers as far back as the Civil and Revolutionary wars. Others, honor men and women now serving in the military.

Whitehall public works crews put up the first dozen banners in the borough on Monday in the Eat'n Park parking lot and on Weyman Road.

Banners will be hung at the Baldwin Community United Methodist Church, along Weyman Road, Borough Park Drive, in Caste Village and at other businesses along Route 51, Book said.

The hope is the banners will prompt conversation and recognition about the veterans and military members, said Book, who was stationed in Germany from 1974 to 1976 while serving in the Army Signal Corps. She worked alongside Anne Giovannetti, a Whitehall resident and a member of the Pleasant Hills American Legion Post 712 Women's Auxiliary, to start the program.

“If we don't carry on the good stuff, no one will,” Book said. “This is the perfect way to start off the Fourth of July week.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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