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Pittsburgh City Council to vote on banners displaying veterans

| Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, 9:30 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Harry Munson of Castle Shannon designs banners on his home computer in this April 2014 file photo.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Banners designed by Harry Munson of Castle Shannon are displayed on Library Road in South Park.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Harry Munson, owner of HTM Designs, organizes military tribute banners for the on his back porch in Castle Shannon in this April 2014 file photo.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Harry Munson designed this banner for display in Bridgeville.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Banners designed by Harry Munson are displayed on Library Road in South Park.

The next time Monday Night Football's cameras roll along Mt. Washington's Grandview Avenue to capture the Pittsburgh skyline, Al Young hopes they'll catch the faces of dozens of veterans.

Pittsburgh City Council will take its final vote Monday on whether to allow the program, which puts veterans' faces on roadside banners and is wildly popular in suburban communities.

Groups in Mt. Washington, Allentown and Carrick are eager to volunteer street lamps and utility poles for the city's first banners.

The program started six years ago in Castle Shannon and has expanded to 41 municipalities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, said Harry Munson, whose HTM Designs in Castle Shannon prints the banners and maintains a website — — listing the names and photos of honorees.

“These are all small communities. Pittsburgh will be the first major city to do this,” Munson said.

The 2-by-3-foot banners feature the name of the community, the name and photo of the honoree, and the branch and unit in which he or she served. They line many towns' business districts each year from Memorial Day to Veterans Day.

But Young, Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5111 in Mt. Washington, said there was too much red tape to overcome when he started trying to bring the banners into Pittsburgh — questions about how to ensure the banners wouldn't open the city to lawsuits from other organizations seeking to put up banners; issues about who had the time and manpower to erect the banners and take them down each year; and materials that would be durable but affordable.

After about three years of work by Young and others, Pittsburgh Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith proposed establishing an application and review process for the banners, which would depict honorably discharged veterans who lived in the city.

The measure passed its first vote last week. Mayor Bill Peduto has voiced his support.

Under an amendment, the banners could hang on public utility poles if they're approved by community groups serving the neighborhood or the council representative, Kail-Smith said. The banners would become city property and be maintained by Department of Public Works staff.

Munson charges a nominal fee to families requesting a banner — though he waives or discounts the cost under certain circumstances, such as someone killed or missing in action. Pittsburgh would donate an amount equal to the proceeds to local veterans service organizations.

“I've seen how popular it is in Castle Shannon, where I live, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring the community in Carrick together,” said John Byrne, president of the Carrick Business Association.

“Every person I've spoken to said they had a veteran in mind who they could honor,” he said. “I'm afraid we'll have too many veterans and not enough telephone poles.”

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or

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