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Veterans' wait for World War II memorial to end soon with dedication of North Shore monument

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 12:09 a.m.

The Greatest Generation had more important things to worry about than a monument.

“When we came home from World War II, the country was pretty well torn up,” said Army veteran Code Gomberg, 91, of Stanton Heights. “Food was still on ration, gas was rationed — you just wanted to find your high school sweetheart, if you hadn't gotten a Dear John letter, settle down and start your life.

“A monument was the furthest thing from your mind.”

On Friday, however, Gomberg and about 100 other veterans will gather on the North Shore for a long-awaited dedication of the Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial.

Constructed of stainless-steel spires, the monument stands on a knoll above the Allegheny River and shares an expanse of land with memorials to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The opening ceremony occurs nearly seven decades after World War II's end.

The monument took 13 years to plan and build.

“They built our city; it just seems crazy that it took so long to recognize that group of veterans,” said Brittany Mahoney, executive director of the World War II Veterans of Southwestern PA Memorial Fund. “I don't know why it took so long.”

Gomberg, a member of the memorial committee, said the idea arose 13 years ago in the Allegheny County Courthouse's Gold Room, where county commissioners met. He watched the late Commissioner Tom Foerster deliver a proclamation honoring veterans of Pearl Harbor, he said.

“I'm walking out, and reporters are asking me, ‘How come you guys never got a World War II memorial?' ” Gomberg recalled. “We started talking about it, and we said, ‘Well, why don't we have one?' ”

The following week, former Mayor Tom Murphy met with Gomberg and other veterans, and allocated money to start a memorial committee, Gomberg said.

In the early 2000s, the committee thought it had found a site on the North Shore between the Sixth and Seventh Street bridges. Only when architect Larry Kirkland finished his design — a long walkway flanked by glass panels containing war images — did they learn that the land would become a park instead.

Other delays followed, officials said. Fundraising bogged down. Key members of the committee, including Superior Court Judge John G. Brosky and local veteran Stanley Roman, died.

Under the leadership of Pittsburgh developer Mark Schneider, the committee last year sought and received approval from the city Planning Commission to build a $4 million memorial near the Del Monte Center.

Days later, Schneider, 55, died in a bicycle crash near Thurmont, Md.

“I thought at that point it was never going to get done,” Mahoney said. “There was still a lot of fundraising left to do, a lot of details that needed to be worked out.”

In stepped Bob Luffy, former president and CEO of American Bridge Co. With his background as an industrial developer, Gomberg and Mahoney said, Luffy was able to secure funding, find contractors and — finally — begin construction.

“It's time,” said Luffy, the committee president and a Vietnam War veteran. “At least we'll get it done when some of the vets are still alive.”

The memorial consists of two striking semicircles of pillars. Western Pennsylvanians are celebrated for their heroics overseas and home front efforts, officials said.

It is as much a museum as a memorial, Kirkland said.

“It's not a memorial you're going to go to once and get your fill in 5 minutes,” he said. “It's a memorial you're going to revisit again and again.”

Fittingly, after so many years of delay, memorial designers had to overcome a final snag during Thanksgiving week.

John West, project manager with Mascaro Construction Co., noticed that etched text on a D-Day panel was off-center. The artist in Oregon said he could not remake the panel until the day after Thanksgiving.

So West flew to Portland on Thanksgiving, rented a U-Haul van, loaded up the 8-foot, 450-pound slab and drove it back to Pittsburgh in three days. It was installed Monday.

“We did not want an asterisk,” West explained.

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

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