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World War II memorial work thrills veterans

| Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 11:27 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
World War II vet Howard Pfeifer stands among the construction of the new Southwest Pennsylvania World War II memorial on the North Shore, Thursday, August 15, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Construction continues on the Southwest Pennsylvania World War II Memorial on the North Shore, Thursday, August 15, 2013.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
World War II vet Howard Pfeifer walks among the construction of the Southwest Pennsylvania World War II memorial on the North Shore, Thursday, August 15, 2013.

Dereke Mason brought three generations of history with him to his first day of work as a cement mason at the Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial on the North Shore.

His late father, James, also a cement mason, served in World War II. His grandfather Eugene was a cement mason, but Dereke wasn't sure about his military service.

The work “made me feel great,” said Mason, 55, of Penn Hills, an Air Force veteran. “It's exciting.”

Construction on the $4 million memorial began in May and is expected to be completed by Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, when officials plan to dedicate the memorial.

The nonprofit World War II Veterans of Southwestern Pennsylvania Memorial Fund planned the tribute for nearly a decade.

“Everything is going well,” said Howard Pfeifer, 89, of Wexford, a World War II veteran and member of the group's executive board who visited the site last week. “I think this is going to be a historic boulevard.”

The World War II memorial will be the latest of several memorials that dot the North Shore landscape: a Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial and the Allegheny County Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

The USS Requin, a Tench class submarine used between 1945 and 1968 to extend the range of the Navy's radar, is moored in the Ohio River beside the Carnegie Science Center just west of the memorials.

“It's very exciting for us. ... It will be a special place,” said Kris Brown, general manager at nearby Jerome Bettis Grille 36. “It's right in our front yard.”

About 4,000 members of the armed forces from Western Pennsylvania died in battle during World War II, according to the county Department of Veterans Services.

Designed by Washington-based artist Larry Kirkland, the memorial will showcase stainless steel and stone spires and glass panels encircling a plaza.

Photographs and narratives embossed in the glass will tell the story of the war in Europe, the Pacific and on the homefront in Pittsburgh. Those stories will include some from local veterans and residents.

The glass panels should arrive this week, and stonework around the concrete plaza should begin soon. The stone spires are coming from Oregon.

“We're all proud to be part of this,” said Ray Soncino, project supervisor for Allegheny Construction Group, a subcontractor. “When you think of the contribution the region has made to the war effort ... this, in large part, will honor the whole region's contributions.”

Organizers raised just more than $4 million in public and private funding to build the memorial. The city Stadium Authority agreed to maintain it, with the establishment of a $300,000 trust fund.

“This is something that will be great for the area,” said John Vento, a World War II veteran from Penn Hills who is vice president of the memorial fund committee.

Craig Smith is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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