The lawn of Memorial Park Church at the corner of Duncan Avenue and Peebles Road in McCandless will undergo a solemn transformation Friday morning when volunteers will begin planting 6,600 flags in honor of this generation's fallen heroes.
The flags will be the backdrop for a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday honoring nearly 300 of Pennsylvania's deceased service members whose names will be read by volunteers in the context of a memorial/funeral service.
"Field of Flags" a traveling memorial exhibit, which originated in Somers, Conn., in 2005, will remain on display until May 1. Memorial Park is the 62nd location to host the flags.
"This is an opportunity for our community to publicly honor those who have laid down their lives so that we may continue to live free," said Jaime Dean, director of Community Care for Military, an organization Mrs. Dean, 47, of Marshall founded in response to her son Jarret's yearlong deployment to Afghanistan in 2011.
"I created this outreach without our church name in the title because I wanted it to be for the entire community," said Mrs. Dean, who also serves as Memorial Park Church's director of small groups.
"There was no support group for military members and their families in the North Hills, so the Army Strong Center does outreach for the Reservists, and the National Guard now refers them to us."
She said when her son started to deploy, she realized there were a growing number of families in her church with offspring who were joining the military.
She said she thought it would be good support for these families to see what people are doing for veterans and their families.
Mrs. Dean became of aware of the traveling memorial and thought Memorial Park Church's front lawn would be perfect for such an eye-catching display.
She was supported by the Rev. Dean Weaver, lead pastor, and the Rev. Paul Becker Jr., pastor of administration.
She has created a PowerPoint presentation showing that since 2003 there have been 282 casualties among Pennsylvania military members, which is the fifth highest number in the country.
Her presentation will be shown at 9 a.m. Saturday in the church sanctuary.
"What's made it so personal is the fact that I've been looking at the faces of these young men, most of them age 18 to 22, and when the families call to say they'd like to attend, I feel like I already know who their son was," Mrs. Dean said.
She said she wanted to give the public an opportunity to thank survivors, veterans and active military members and create an opportunity for veterans to have a bit of closure.
"Iraqi and Afghanistan vets who were over there when their friends were brought back here didn't get to go to their funerals," she said.
"This is a way for them to attend the funeral now."
Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.