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Ceremony marks 68th anniversary of SS McKeesport's sinking

| Saturday, April 30, 2011

Local legislators, war veterans, McKeesport officials and area residents gathered to honor the memory of a ship named for the city.

The SS McKeesport, a 6,198-ton steel vessel, was torpedoed by a German U-boat on April 29, 1943. It became a casualty of World War II`s Battle of the Atlantic, and since 2000 an annual ceremony has commemorated the the ship`s sinking.

On Friday, the 68th anniversary of the merchant marine vessel`s demise was marked by a ceremony at the Palisades by the Marina at McKees Point.

'I`m glad to see all you here to remember the SS McKeesport,' said honorary event chairman Paul Baran, a Naval Armed Guard veteran. 'If it wasn`t for the merchant marines, I don`t know how the hell we ever would have fought the war. Over 3,000 miles, a lot of water, and all the equipment that the service men needed were provided for them by the merchant marines and the armed guard gunners on the ship. Thank you.'

Baran was onboard another ship in the same convoy with the SS McKeesport when the city`s namesake met its end.

He and American Merchant Marine Veterans Mon Valley chapter president Gerard Driscoll placed a memorial wreath along the Marina.

Then the Rev. Paul Voida of St. Mary Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church in Christy Park gave the invocation and talked briefly about the history of the SS McKeesport before state Sen. James Brewster, a former McKeesport mayor, took the podium.

'It`s always difficult to follow Father Paul,' Brewster said. 'He brought some thoughts to mind.'

Brewster presented master of ceremonies Bob Sokol with a state Senate resolution recognizing the SS McKeesport`s anniversary.

'I always make sure that, when I go somewhere, everybody knows about McKeesport when we leave the room,' Brewster said. 'It was really nice to have other senators come over and reflect on the history of the SS McKeesport and merchant marines.'

McKeesport Mayor Regis T. McLaughlin also highlighted the contributions of sister ships SS Homestead, SS Braddock, SS Duquesne, SS Clairton and the SS Donora.

'All these proud ships and men plowed through dangerous U-boat infested waters of the North Atlantic to provide our troops and allies with much needed supplies to ensure our liberty,' McLaughlin said. 'Some of these men and ships paid the ultimate sacrifice doing so.'

Principal speaker Col. William H. Graham, chief Pittsburgh district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a veteran of both Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, also lauded the efforts of the merchant marines.

The corps maintains locks and dams on area rivers, including those on the Monongahela at Braddock, Elizabeth and Charleroi.

McKeesporter Jim Fedasz presented a model of a flag encased in a triangular box, similar to what might have been presented to survivors of the one seaman who died as a result of the sinking.

AMVETS Post 8 Commander Robert Jensen raised an American flag, which was presented by U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle`s chief aid Al Smith, over the SS McKeesport monument at the entrance to the marina boat docks.

Most of the participants stayed inside the Palisades during the outdoor portions of the ceremony due to the weather.

Clifford W. Flegal Sr. of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 514, a retired city controller who perhaps is best known for his involvement in veterans events, guided the crowd during that time.

An honor guard from the Navy Operational Support Center Pittsburgh in North Versailles Township posted the colors, and a rifle squad from Port Vue American Legion Post 447 and the Liberty Borough Veterans Association also participated.

Michael Monezis and Hannah Smart of the McKeesport Area High School band played Taps.

Sokol led the crowd in singing 'God Bless America,' and Laura W. Jenkins of the American Legion Post 666 Women`s Auxiliary Unit gave the benediction.

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