As young boys in the 1970s, growing up in the backwoods of western Pennsylvania, my brothers and I simply called it “the Honor Roll.” I knew the brick structure with a glass front built along our country road contained names of township citizens hand-painted in calligraphy on wooden tiles, and it was a memorial to veterans from the Second World War. To us, caring for the Honor Roll was a rite of passage as teenage boys. You see, the names and significance of the memorial didn’t mean much at the time, but if you were chosen by the township supervisor to mow the lawn, that meant a lot. The grounds, about 50 yards long and 15 or 20 yards wide, were nestled between the road and the creek (or “crick” to us). This was big stuff, taking care of the Honor Roll. You were moving up in the local mowing hierarchy. The money was good, and if you did a good job you might get more work in the winter when it was time to help the supervisor plow snow and ash the roads.
As we grew and moved on with our lives, some of us serving in the military, we came to understand the real meaning of the Honor Roll. We learned it was built in 1947 as a thank you and tribute to all those from Perry Township, Armstrong County who served in World War II. There are 80 names; 78 men and two women from the “Greatest Generation” who answered the call. We pointed with pride to our grandfather’s name, Joseph Platz, on one of the tiles, who happened to be the bricklayer for the monument. Eighty names of men and women from such an isolated, small community shows the scope of what our grandparents endured in the 1940s.
But over the years, the condition of the monument declined. First, the glass pane was broken by vandals. A steel mesh screen was installed over new glass, the mesh painted with red, white and blue to show a flag fluttering in the wind. Name tiles were given touch-up paint with utmost care. Inevitably the concrete began to crumble, the steel mesh rusted, the elements crept inside and began to destroy the tiles holding the names of our heroes. Every year during Memorial Day ceremonies hosted by American Legion Post 488, people would lament the sad condition of the Honor Roll. It was time to act before those names were lost.
My brother Bruce Bly, fellow veteran and commander of American Legion “Bishop-Madden” Post 488 in Brady’s Bend, Pa., proposed a project for our Legion post to rebuild this monument to our World War II brothers and sisters. Not only was the work a necessity to save the monument, there was a large symbol on the back of the old brick structure; the American Legion crest, which placed the task squarely in our hands. With overwhelming support of post members, committees formed and began in early 2015 planning for construction of and fundraising for a new monument. They decided on a granite monument with the names permanently engraved. There were lively debates on whether to add more names of local veterans to the monument from our area who had settled in Perry Township after the original monument was built, or whether to include names from later conflicts. Post members reached a compromise and decided the monument would stand as originally intended, historically accurate, containing the names of the original 80 World War II veterans. Any veteran names from the surrounding communities or from later conflicts could be added by having an engraved brick placed along the concrete walkway leading to the monument.
Fundraising began with a mass mailing to all post members containing information on the project and raffle tickets. On New Year's Day an “Ice Bucket” challenge brought a lot of laughs and kept the money coming in. With the support of donors and other fundraising events we slowly but steadily approached our goal, but time was running out. Commander Bly pushed the ‘engraved brick’ idea that worked so well for other memorial projects. He led the effort, and the team breathed a sigh of relief when the brick project numbers came in. Families and friends recognized 178 of their veterans from our surrounding neighborhoods in an incredible outpouring of support. At the time of this writing there is another order pending to recognize more veterans. These bricks changed the Honor Roll into a true veteran’s monument, and completed our fundraising efforts, raising over $11,000 to rebuild the monument.
Chris Hile, local funeral director and owner of Donegal Monument Company, was instrumental in finalizing the design for the new monument. (Chris' role in this endeavor cannot be understated. When he heard why we needed the granite, he basically donated any profits to the project to honor our veterans). He found a perfect granite base from one of his contacts in Georgia, and procured a beautiful black Pennsylvania granite block to rest on top with the names and military emblems. Chris handled the painstaking work with his engraver of accurately etching the new stone with 80 names and adding logos from all six services. Members of Post 488 prepared the ground and poured a solid concrete foundation to receive the stones. The large, grey, polished-granite base from Georgia was placed on the footing declaring “Perry Township Honor Roll,” a carry-over from the original structure. The base was ready for the perfectly designed black stone with the names of our honorees and the service logos topped by a beautifully engraved US flag fluttering in the breeze. It is a breathtaking sight and brilliant in its simplicity; truly inspirational and a perfect tribute to our veterans. All 178 engraved bricks arrived just in time and were placed in black sand along the newly poured concrete walkway. A bench rests off to the side for anyone wanting to sit, reflect, and enjoy the memorial park. The final touch came when a new flag was raised over the memorial. Glen and Linda Voleric donated a beautiful brushed aluminum flag pole with solar powered lighting and a flag in honor of Linda’s two uncles named on the memorial, both of whom were able to attend the rededication.
On July 2, 2016, the new Perry Township Honor Roll was dedicated on a beautiful, sunny day. The Post 488 Honor Guard stood tall while Post 488 members and Sons of the American Legion Squadron 488 looked on with pride. Several Pennsylvania posts joined our celebration that day; American Legion Posts 642 Chicora, 402 East Brady and 454 Rimersburg. Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts 7132 Rimersburg and 7073 Parker flew their colors with us. About 12 members of the American Legion Riders, Butler Chapter arrived on their motorcycles and quietly posted along the road with their flags to honor our veterans. (You can always count on these Legion Riders – any event in our area, any time, they are on scene quietly and professionally paying respects). Local pastor and childhood friend Paul DeBacco gave a rousing speech on growing up in Western Pennsylvania, on freedom, and the blessings and privilege of being a US citizen. Commander Bly thanked all those involved with this project and presented letters of appreciation. We were proud and grateful to host four guests of honor; Michael Evankovich, Arnold “Chubb” Freiters, Frederick “Fritz” Freiters and Raymond Hillwig Jr. These four men’s names are engraved on the new monument and are the four remaining Perry Township veterans from World War II. We presented each of these warriors with a flag flown in Iraq or Afghanistan by local Pennsylvania C-130 crews (with whom I had the great privilege of serving at the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station) and a certificate reiterating our thanks for serving our country in time of need.
There are so many people to thank for making this project a success, from local businesses to Post 488 members donating their time and skills and equipment. To all of those citizens – this project could not have happened without your commitment and dedication. Thank you. We are fairly certain Grandpap Platz is OK with the modifications you made to his original structure.
American Legion Post 488 member