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Banners honor service members in Irwin, North Huntingdon

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
World War II veteran Robert Gray (seated), 90, of North Huntingdon attended the Armed Forces Day Ceremony on Saturday, May 17, 2014, at VFW Post 781 in North Huntingdon.

On Main Street in Irwin and along Norwin Avenue in North Huntingdon, banners honoring local active-duty military personnel and those killed in action have flown since mid-April.

At VFW Post 781 in North Huntingdon, the Rotary Club of Norwin held a Military Banner Roll Call Ceremony on Saturday morning to honor the individuals pictured on those banners as well as their families.

While on vacation in Southern California last year, Rotary members and banner program co-chairs Frank and Mary Aiello noticed banners hung in Temecula honoring active-duty military personnel from the city and knew they needed to bring a similar program home with them.

“Mary and I took our program to all our support organizations. No one said no,” Frank Aiello said. “There isn't anybody in the community that would say no to this program. And what a wonderful program it is. Out of sight, out of mind? Not anymore. Not in our community.”

Families received miniature replica banners during the Armed Forces Day ceremony and will be given the full-size 47-by-22-inch banners when they're taken down in November, Frank Aiello said.

When pitching the idea of hanging the banners, the Aiellos first contacted the parents of Lt. Col. Christopher “Otis” Raible, who died leading a counterattack against enemy forces on Sept. 14, 2012, at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Raible's photo was used on the banner prototype displayed on promotional flyers distributed throughout the community and to area businesses, and his banner was one of the first hung for display.

“I think it's a wonderful program, and I actually wish other communities would all start adopting it,” said Raible's mother, Kim, of North Huntingdon. “When he died, I thought, ‘Does anybody appreciate what these people give up, what the military gives up? Do they realize?' I found out that they do.”

Army Capt. Jaycee Archinal of North Huntingdon was one of a handful of active-duty members of the military able to be present for the ceremony. Her son, Army Rangers Spc. Lee Archinal, also has a banner hung in his honor.

“It's an honor for me to serve, and to have the support from the community is just awesome. I can't say enough about it,” she said. “People forget because it's gone on for so long. I just want them to still be honored and their families still to be honored.”

To date, 34 banners have been mounted, and Frank Aiello said eight more will be ready to go up soon. A total of 65 sites are being eyed for the banners, Aiello said.

“This is like icing on top of the cake,” said Marlyn Shipley of North Huntingdon, who fought for years to have her son, Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Don Shipley, listed as being killed in action after he died aboard a chartered airplane that exploded on Dec. 12, 1985, over Gander, Newfoundland. “It's like coming out of the hat, like a magical day. I'd dreamt of this all this time.

“I'm glad their doing it because it shows they do care,” she added. “They should recognize all these young men and women. They're giving their lives to keep us alive. Give them credit, and for them to do this is just miraculous. I can't even put into words how much it means. My heart is thumping so hard, you can't imagine.

“It means so much to me just to see these men and women honored.”

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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