Shrunken by age, some in wheelchairs or pushing walkers, proud veterans of the Second World War braved the cold Friday yesterday on the North Shore for the dedication of a memorial to their generation.
The Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial, 13 years in the making, stands as a tribute to those who fought and those who labored on the home front in Pittsburgh’s heavy industries.
“This memorial is like a big history book,” said Code Gomberg, 91, of Stanton Heights, an Army veteran and member of the memorial committee.
With veterans of the war dwindling, he said, “We must tell our stories, and we have to tell the younger generations what happened.”
Constructed of stainless steel spires and glass, the monument tells that tale in a series of photos from battle zones in Europe and the Pacific as well as scenes from Pittsburgh mills, which produced a third of all the steel used for ships, tanks and guns.
The images are inclusive, showing women in military service and the mills, black soldiers marching and children gathering scrap material.
Twenty-four granite panels also feature essays, diary entries and quotations by figures ranging from Dwight Eisenhower to historian David McCullough, a Pittsburgh native.
Although most of the vets seemed pleased about the memorial, they also felt it was way too long in coming.
The war ended 68 years ago. Thousands of Pittsburgh-area veterans have since died, and other wars — notably Vietnam and Korea — long ago received recognition with memorials on the North Shore.
“It’s about time,” said William Winowich, 89, of Allison Park, a medic who served with George Patton’s Third Army and married a French girl after the war. (She slapped him when he kissed her the first time they met in 1946).
He was particularly incensed that a memorial to the 9
11 terrorist attacks has already been built in New York City.
“I’m [ticked] off about that. They tell us we’re great but they do nothing for us,” he said. “We’re getting our due.”
Other veterans, however, said the delay was a function of the times. After a cataclysmic war that unleashed barbarity on a mammoth scale, left whole countries in ruin and killed 60 million people around the globe, soldiers wanted to get on with their lives.
“A veteran just wanted to find his sweetheart — if he hadn’t gotten a Dear John letter — find a job, have a home and raise a family,” said Mr. Gomberg.
No one was much interested in monuments.
Since its inception 13 years ago, the memorial also hit numerous snags.
Mr. Gomberg, who served with a medical battalion in Europe, told the crowd that the idea started at the Allegheny County Courthouse after Commissioner Tom Foerster had delivered a proclamation honoring Pearl Harbor veterans. Reporters asked Mr. Gomberg why World War II veterans didn’t have a memorial. That got him thinking there should be one, and soon a committee was established to raise money and look for a site.
One on the North Shore had to be abandoned and over the years fundraising flagged, especially after the deaths of two of the driving forces behind the memorial — Superior Court Judge John Brosky, an artillery captain in the Pacific, and Stan Roman of McKees Rocks, an Army veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Developer Mark Schneider later stepped in to spearhead the project and received approval to build near the Del Monte Center, but he died in a bike crash in Maryland last year.
Bob Luffy, ex-president of American Bridge Co., then took over and secured the necessary $4 million to start construction.
He said his goal had been to get the monument built while some veterans of the war were still alive to see it.
One especially grateful for that effort was John Vento, 90, of Penn Hills, an Army veteran and vice president of the memorial committee whose younger self, in a Pacific foxhole, is pictured among the monument photos.
“We’ll enjoy this memorial for many years,” he said.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510. First Published December 6, 2013 12:22 PM