D-Day Event Chosen to Scorn Critics

By Cronin, Mike | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 7, 2009 | Go to article overview

D-Day Event Chosen to Scorn Critics


Cronin, Mike, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


It was not coincidence that Saturday's dedication of a new parking lot and patio at Sharpsburg's American Legion Post 106 fell on the 65th anniversary of D-Day, when the largest armada ever assembled invaded Nazi-occupied France.

Post officials said they timed the ceremony as a way to rebuff critics of its construction project.

"We're not against vets," said critic Robert Gallo, 71, a retired Allegheny County judge as he stood last week near the legion's new parking lot on Heinz Terrace, a residential street where he lives. "They're out there fighting for me and my freedom of speech. All we wanted was a fair hearing."

"And it's very sad we had to go to court to accomplish that goal," said Gallo, a borough councilman for 20 years until his 1989 election to the bench.

Six Heinz Terrace residents, including Gallo's wife, Violet, are seeking a court order to remove the parking lot and other upgrades. The lawsuit claims Sharpsburg council violated its own ordinances in how it approved the project, trampling some basic freedoms that men and women in uniform have defended with their lives.

"The reason we made such a big deal out of the dedication is so Judge Gallo will stop and go away -- or, if nothing else, come down and talk to us in a civilized manner and get this resolved," said John "Jack" Kurtz, 53, of Etna, adjutant of the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 106 for the George L. Walter American Legion Post 106. Kurtz, a laid-off electrical engineer, served in the Navy from 1974-78.

"We adhered to everything the building inspector told us to do," said Gary Salitrik, the post secretary and treasurer and an Army veteran who drove a jeep in Vietnam from 1970-71. "We adhered to everything the council asked us to do."

In court documents, Sharpsburg council members deny they did anything wrong when approving the project. Sharpsburg Mayor Donald Ferraro and Council President Joseph Panza declined to comment upon the advice of the borough's attorney, Michael J. Witherel.

Legion members say the upgrades are necessary to help ailing vets get into the post's building, located at North Canal Street and Heinz Terrace.

"A lot of us can't get around too well anymore," said Jim Carey, 61, of Etna, an Army Signal Corps veteran who served in Vietnam from 1965-67. "They didn't make these improvements to slight anyone who lives (in the neighborhood). They did it to honor those who served our country."

Dedicated to a hero

The new patio and parking lot, which can be accessed only from Heinz Terrace, were dedicated yesterday in honor of the late Michael J. Novosel Sr., a Medal of Honor recipient originally from Etna, in what was hoped to be a splashy ceremony attended by plenty of top brass. It became a more modest affair.

Retired four-star generals Richard A. Cody of the Army and Michael V. Hayden of the Air Force didn't make it, nor did Gov. Ed Rendell, Sen. Arlen Specter or Sen. Bob Casey.

Novosel, a Vietnam vet and an Army helicopter pilot, died three years ago in Enterprise, Ala. He was 83. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Oct. 2, 1969, when he piloted a helicopter through enemy fire no fewer than six times and rescued 29 soldiers pinned down by the enemy.

Attending the dedication ceremony was his son, Michael J. Novosel Jr., 59, of Shalimar, Fla., who served alongside his father in Vietnam as his copilot. …

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