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Westmoreland

Photos found for all Westmoreland veterans killed in action during Vietnam War

Patrick Varine
| Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, 6:24 p.m.
Above, a high school yearbook photo of James McClelland of Irwin. McClelland was killed in action during the Vietnam War.
Submitted photo
Above, a high school yearbook photo of James McClelland of Irwin. McClelland was killed in action during the Vietnam War.
Above, a high school yearbook photo of James McClelland of Irwin. McClelland was killed in action during the Vietnam War.
Submitted photo
Above, a high school yearbook photo of James McClelland of Irwin. McClelland was killed in action during the Vietnam War.

Thanks to the efforts of a local woman with an interest in genealogy, photos of every Westmoreland County veteran killed in action during the Vietnam War now have a place in the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund's digital “Wall of Faces.”

Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. James McClelland of Irwin was the last of 27 Westmoreland veterans whose photos had eluded searchers who began looking for them in 2016.

Linda Degentesh of Greensburg was able to track down a yearbook photo of McClelland, who was born Sept. 16, 1931, and killed in action in Quang Tri, north-central Vietnam, on April 11, 1968, at the age of 36.

Degentesh, who is not related to McClelland, regularly does ancestry research, and her experience helped her track down McClelland's grandson.

“He had two daughters, one of whom died around the age of 50,” Degentesh said. “Her obituary asked for contributions to be made to a Christian school. It's closed now, but there was information on the internet that the school's administrator was the daughter's husband.”

Degentesh researched the husband and found his name connected to a missionary operation in the Dominican Republic.

“I emailed him at the mission, and his son is the one who had the photo and actually uploaded it,” she said.

Matt Zamosky, director for the Westmoreland County Department of Veterans Affairs, couldn't be happier.

“I would've felt like we were letting them down, especially these guys who made the ultimate sacrifice, if we couldn't get it done,” he said.

Zamosky's office began trying to track down the photos in 2016, and he said he'd often receive calls from veterans offering to help.

“We've had some people who took it as a personal challenge,” he said with a laugh.

The camaraderie developed among veterans also aided in the early stages of the search.

“It doesn't matter what branch you served in, whether you served in wartime,” Zamosky said. “Veterans tend to communicate more freely with other veterans, and there's a kinship. There's a desire not to let a veteran down, and it feels good when you can do something like this.”

Degentesh said she truly enjoys the research.

“I'm in my 70s, so there are a lot of things I can't do anymore,” she said. “But I love doing this. I know my way around the computer, and this is something I can do.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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