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Western Pa. veterans: Remember reason behind Memorial Day

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Friday, May 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

For many, Memorial Day means picnics, pools and a day off from work.

Yet veterans organizations hope people will reflect on the reason for the holiday on Monday.

“Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of the summer vacation season, which is great,” said Ron Conley, director of veterans services for Allegheny County. “But it's a day set aside for us to take some time to pause and reflect on the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives so we can have the freedom to enjoy time with our families and friends.”

There are personal ways people can pay tribute to men and women who died while serving in the armed forces, Conley said.

“You can volunteer to decorate veterans' graves or make a donation to an organization that helps veterans,” he said. “Even taking your children to a veterans memorial can help them better understand the sacrifices so many others have made for the freedoms we enjoy.”

Michele Margittai, director of development and community relations for the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, agrees that people can do more to better understand the sacrifices made by veterans.

“Even though as a community we have become much more sensitive to veterans and may even know someone who served, too many people still see Memorial Day as a holiday instead of a day of observance,” she said.

Margittai's organization on the South Side serves more than 2,000 local veterans who are unemployed, under employed or homeless.

“Many of the veterans who come into our office don't believe people care about them,” she said. “But we can help change that attitude by getting educated about what veterans face when they come home.”

Margittai agreed that “simple gestures” can often go a long way toward increasing awareness and understanding of veterans' issues, especially for children.

“It doesn't have to be something huge,” she said. “Last year I sat down with my 7- and 10-year-old children to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on YouTube and I explained what was going on and what it meant.”

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7987 or

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