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Long-overdue memorial to region's World War II vets opens

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Helen Cridge, 88, of Hopewell becomes emotional as she touches a photo of herself and her late husband Norman H. Cridge Jr., taken in 1946 a few weeks after he returned from serving in World War II, as she sees it for the first time displayed on the wall of the new World War II Memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. 'I still have every one of his letters,' said Cridge of her late husband, who served in the Merchant Marine. Cridge says she helped to raise over $11,000 since 2009 by selling calenders to raise funds for the memorial, which was dedicated Friday.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Helen Cridge, 88, of Hopewell becomes emotional as she touches a photo of herself and her late husband Norman H. Cridge Jr., taken in 1946 a few weeks after he returned from serving in World War II, as she sees it for the first time displayed on the wall of the new World War II Memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. 'I still have every one of his letters,' said Cridge of her late husband, who served in the Merchant Marine. Cridge says she helped to raise over $11,000 since 2009 by selling calenders to raise funds for the memorial, which was dedicated Friday.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Norman Cridge (left), 60, of Finley and Neil Cridge (right), 34, of Oakdale, hold their mother and grandmother respectively, Helen Cridge, 88, of Hopewell, as she sees a photo of herself and her late husband Norman H. Cridge, Jr., taken in 1946 a few weeks after he returned from serving in World War II. Unsure if it would be picked for the memorial, Helen Cridge cried and touched the photo as she saw it for the first time displayed on the wall of the World War II Memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. 'I still have every one of his letters,' said Cridge of her late husband, who served in the Merchant Marine. Cridge says she helped to raise over $11,000 since 2009 by selling calenders to raise funds for the memorial, which was dedicated Friday.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Norman Cridge (left), 60, of Finley and Neil Cridge (right), 34, of Oakdale, hold their mother and grandmother respectively, Helen Cridge, 88, of Hopewell, as she sees a photo of herself and her late husband Norman H. Cridge, Jr., taken in 1946 a few weeks after he returned from serving in World War II. Unsure if it would be picked for the memorial, Helen Cridge cried and touched the photo as she saw it for the first time displayed on the wall of the  World War II Memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. 'I still have every one of his letters,' said Cridge of her late husband, who served in the Merchant Marine. Cridge says she helped to raise over $11,000 since 2009 by selling calenders to raise funds for the memorial, which was dedicated Friday.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Veterans gather to see the long-awaited World War II memorial be dedicated on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Veterans gather to see the long-awaited World War II memorial be dedicated on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Members of the First Frontier Mechanized Calvary attend the dedication of the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. The group brought Jeeps from World War II, seen in the foreground.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Members of the First Frontier Mechanized Calvary attend the dedication of the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. The group brought Jeeps from World War II, seen in the foreground.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Chaplain for the World War II memorial committee Edward Skeehan, 87, of Carrick salutes during the singing of the National Anthem as he sits front row at the World War II memorial dedication on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Chaplain for the World War II memorial committee Edward Skeehan, 87, of Carrick salutes during the singing of the National Anthem as he sits front row at the World War II memorial dedication on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - A worker takes down the tarp covering the World War II memorial as the dedication commences on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>A worker takes down the tarp covering the World War II memorial as the dedication commences on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Aaron Miller of Boy Scout Troop 379 raises the American flag over the World War II memorial as the dedication for the long-awaited memorial comes to a close on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Aaron Miller of Boy Scout Troop 379 raises the American flag over the World War II memorial as the dedication for the long-awaited memorial comes to a close on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Tom Rosselot of the North Side visits the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Tom Rosselot of the North Side visits the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Donna and Curtis Schmitt, 60 and 61 respectively, of Carrick bow their heads during the dedication ceremony for the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Donna and Curtis Schmitt, 60 and 61 respectively, of Carrick bow their heads during the dedication ceremony for the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - People are seen beyond floating World War II-era photos through the glass at the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>People are seen beyond floating World War II-era photos through the glass at the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Son and father Tom (left) and Chris Rosselot of North Side visit the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Son and father Tom (left) and Chris Rosselot of North Side visit the World War II memorial on the North Shore on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013.
Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

When the tarps came down, John Vento walked among the spires of the World War II memorial on the North Shore and paused at a black and white photo.

Two young men in fatigues, sitting in a trench behind a 40-millimeter gun, stared back at him. The man on the right was Vento, nearly 70 years younger.

“We were protecting an air strip in New Guinea,” Vento said. “I think of those days in the jungle and fighting for my country. That was a long time ago.”

That photo and dozens of others are a permanent part of the Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial. Officials dedicated the monument, 13 years in the making, during a ceremony under cold, gray skies on Friday.

“This memorial is dedicated to (veterans) but it's not for them,” said Bob Luffy, president of the memorial committee. “It's for the generations to come … so they know the sacrifices made for them.”

The memorial's spires face each other in semi-circles. Panels covered with photos and text celebrate Western Pennsylvanians' wartime efforts, at home and abroad. Designer Larry Kirkland said he chose steel and glass for the memorial because they are materials most identifiable with Pittsburgh.

The monument differs from others, officials said, in that it chronicles the events of a nation at war and the personal stories of those who lived it.

“It's like a big history book,” said Army veteran Code Gomberg, a member of the memorial committee. “You look at these photos and there are a million stories.”

Consider the otherwise unremarkable photo of a young man in uniform that went largely unnoticed on Friday. As visitors milled past, a woman approached the image, reached out her hand and smiled.

“That was my husband,” said Nancy Travis Bolden. “Frank Bolden. A war correspondent.”

Bolden, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier, became one of two black journalists given access to U.S. troops. His reporting on the heroics of black troops helped dispel myths that they were substandard, even cowardly soldiers and led to eventual integration of the armed services.

Bolden died in 2003 but will be forever remembered through the monument.

“I am so grateful,” Travis Bolden said. “What he did is being preserved.”

Gomberg is featured, but not in images. His story of a chance encounter in Germany with a starving boy named Mike is etched into a panel.

It was late April in 1945, Gomberg recalled. He had walked through the remains of a liberated concentration camp, where an MP explained the reason for the large furnaces. Gomberg became ill and left. Outside, he encountered a 12-year-old boy, begging for food. His parents had been taken to Auschwitz. He had nobody.

Gomberg's unit took in the boy, caring for him: “He became our orderly and interpreter. He asked me what would happen to him. Sometimes he became depressed.”

When Gomberg received orders to return home, he brought Mike to the Jewish Welfare Board in Paris. The boy said he would try to get to Indiana, where he had family.

“And that's the last I saw of the kid,” Gomberg said. “I've searched for him, but I can't find him. I never knew his last name — just Mike, and an old photo of him. As far as I know, he's either still in Europe or he got to Indiana.”

Mike would be in his late 70s. Gomberg wonders what stories he could tell.

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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