Ceremony will dedicate Blairsville interchange to fallen soldier
Patriotic displays of remembrance have become a traditional sight in Blairsville on Memorial Day weekend.
Next weekend, as in past years, hundreds of United States flags donated by families of deceased veterans will be flying near the entrance of Blairsville Cemetery.
Also this year, the name and image of Staff Sgt. Glen Stivison Jr. will be prominent in Blairsville, as family, friends, veterans and officials gather in his former hometown to honor the 13-year Army veteran killed in action in Afghanistan in October 2009. In a ceremony at 11 a.m. May 24, the junction of routes 119 and 22 just east of Blairsville will be dedicated as the Staff Sergeant Glen H. Stivison, Jr. Memorial Interchange.
According to PennDOT officials, a crew likely will be on site a few days before the formal dedication to install a green sign bearing Stivison's name along each of the interchange's four ramps. Because of traffic hazards at the high-volume junction, and the many people expected to attend, the ceremony will be held in the Park and Ride lot near the intersection of the Route 119 spur with old Route 22. A replica of the sign will be used in the program and versions will be presented to members of Stivison's family.
Stivison's mother, Jan, of Blairsville, is organizing the dedication ceremony and is expecting about 40 extended family members to attend. The group will be easy to spot as a number of them will be wearing T-shirts Jan Stivison ordered that are printed with a favorite military portrait of her late son.
Family members traveling from out of state will include the honoree's widow, Eryn, and their two sons — William, 13, and Andrew, 11. They reside in Colorado Springs, Col., where Glen Stivison Jr. was based with the 569th Mobility Augmentation Company, 4th Engineer Battalion, at Fort Carson.
Glen Stivison was 34 years old on Oct. 15, 2009, when he and three fellow soldiers were mortally wounded as their vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. Their unit was assigned to clear such devices from roadways, but Jan Stivison learned her son's convoy altered course that day to answer a distress call from a platoon that was under attack.
In selecting a date for the ceremony to honor her son's sacrifice, Jan Stivison initially thought of his birthday, May 10. But she realized that Memorial Day weekend would be a particularly fitting time for the dedication.
“Maybe it will make people think what Memorial Day is really about,” she said.
The holiday weekend also will make it easier for some people to attend — including her grandsons in Colorado, who will be finished with school by then.
While invitations to the dedication program have gone out to local and state officials, including the governor, among those who have confirmed they'll attend is Brigadier General Walter Lord, most recently special assistant to the vice chief of the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. Lord's previous assignments include commander and senior NATO military representative in Sarajevo; chief of staff with the Pennsylvania National Guard in Fort Indiantown Gap; and a 22-month stint, beginning in August 1990, as an assistant professor of military science with the Army ROTC program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Speakers at the ceremony will include Glen Stivison's former commanding officer, Col. Kevin Landers. Now a National Security Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Landers is preparing to assume command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district in Wilmington, N.C.
Jan Stivison believes that well over 100 people may attend the dedication ceremony — including many she doesn't know who learned of the event as word spread through Facebook.
“It's gone well beyond what we anticipated,” she said, and she welcomes that show of support. “That's more people there to honor our son.”
“A lot of Glen's high school classmates are coming,” she said, as well as friends who served with him in the Army. Of the “battle buddies” who can't make it, she noted, “They told us they would be with us in spirit that day. Some of them are deploying again or they have jobs that aren't permitting them to have time off.”
The ceremony will include a reading of Glen Stivison's many service awards. In addition to posthumous Bronze Star and Purple Heart awards, the highly decorated solider earned a wide variety of medals, including seven Army Achievement Medals, four Army Good Conduct Medals and two Overseas Service Ribbons.
“It's going to be a very proud day for us to have that kind of attention for our son,” Jan Stivison said. But, given the emotional impact it will also have on his survivors, she couldn't say whether any family members would be prepared to offer remarks at the ceremony.
Other immediate family members include Glen Stivison Jr.'s father, Glen; two brothers — Benjamin, 17, a high school junior, and William, 20, a Pennsylvania National Guard specialist who is a freshman at California University of Pennsylvania; sister Carey Harper, 36, of Blairsville, and her 5-year-old daughter, McKenzie Stivison.
McKenzie “was just 9 months old when her uncle was killed,” Jan Stivison said. “He got to see her one time for a few minutes” through a video link to his base overseas.
The idea of having a part of the state highway system dedicated to the slain Blairsville soldier had its seed early in 2013 when his mother and her sister-in-law, Connie Stivison, drove to the Army base at Fort Benning, Ga., to see Connie's son, Dan Messenger, who is stationed there as a specialist with the 3rd Ranger Battalion.
Jan Stivison recalled,“We commented at all the signs we saw along the highways,” naming individuals to whom particular sections of road were dedicated.
The family decided to seek a similar honor for Glen Stivison Jr. and approached their local representative in Harrisburg — Dave Reed, an Indiana Republican. Reed authored the legislation needed to affix Stivison's name to the interchange _ House Bill 1410, which was unanimously passed in November, later approved by the Senate and signed into law.
Reed said in a statement at the time: “Staff Sergeant Stivison was an American hero. I hope that this designation raises awareness of his sacrifice; it is the least we can do to salute his service to our nation.”
According to Jan Stivison, the family was presented with four potential locations that could be named for their loved one — among them the Bairdstown Bridge that carries old Route 22 over the Conemaugh River.
She said the family decided against that location, in part, because the bridge deck often is under water when flood control gates are closed a the Conemaugh Dam downstream.
She said her husband immediately voted for the routes 119/22 interchange, and she concurred, noting it is one of the most highly traveled spots in the community.
Jan Stivison, who participates in several online groups for Gold Star mothers — those who have lost children in battle — explained, “Our biggest fear is that our children's sacrifices and service would be forgotten.” But, once the new interchange signs are in place, area motorists will have a constant reminder of Glen Stivison Jr.'s service to his country and the ultimate sacrifice he made.
Helping to honor him at the May 24 dedication will be the Blairsville Military Service Group, comprised of members of the local VFW Post 5821 and American Legion Post 0407. Local Vietnam veteran Al Hogue will serve as master of ceremonies, and members of the Blairsville Community Band will provide patriotic musical selections.
Jan Stivison urged those attending the ceremony not to attempt to park on highway berms. She said attendees may park in the northeast section of the nearby Resort Plaza parking lot, near the former Aaron's furniture and appliance rental outlet. A shuttle service will be provided to cross the short distance to the Park and Ride lot.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.