Expect to see more than double the 75 Hometown Hero flags flying from utility poles in Vandergrift and East Vandergrift, paying homage to local veterans and hometown first-responders, next year.
For $100, residents can order a flag honoring a family member, dead or alive, who has served in the military or was or is a first-responder — including police officer, firefighter and EMS personnel.
The banner program, started in fall 2016 and with the first banners going up Memorial Day 2017, is sponsored by the Vandergrift No. 1 Fire Department.
The fire department doesn’t use the program for fundraising.
In fact, its members are looking some extra money to pay for the utility pole brackets in the future, according to the program’s founder Ashleigh Hanningan, 32, a borough resident and a firefighter with No. 1.
Hanningan had seen memorial banners in other towns such as Apollo and Lower Burrell and she thought, “Why can’t we have our hometown heroes celebrated here?”
So she and her husband, Chris Hannigan, also a firefighter, decided it was worth the effort to shine a spotlight on their residents.
The response has been tremendous and continues, she said.
They have orders for 100 more banners and the list is growing.
Those new banners will be displayed just before Memorial Day 2019, and like the other banners, will come down shortly after Labor Day.
“As long as the banners are in good condition, we’ll keep putting them up every spring,” Hannigan said.
Vandergrift police Sgt. Tony DePanicis, who has several family members honored on the banners, said the banners resonate with residents: “People are proud of family who served and continue to serve our country and those first-responders on the front line everyday protecting their community.”
The most recently installed banner commemorates Robert Kirkland, 44, an active duty Vandergrift police officer who died in June from complications from sepsis.
Hanningan took on ordering Kirkland’s banner because she suspected that his widow, Vicki, didn’t need the extra work and expense.
“It is something his children can say, ‘That’s my dad,” said DePanicis.
DePanicis called Kirkland and told her she had to come down to the police department as the fire department was hanging the banner near the police station.
“I love it. It brings a tear to my eye,” said Kirkland’s widow, Vicki, 43. ” It keeps his memory alive.”
Casimer Maszgay, 62, of Vandergrift and a retired police officer, likes to admire several banners that honor his family including his father, Casimer Sr., a decorated World War II veteran who stormed the beaches of Normandy and fought in the Battle of Budge.
Casimer Sr.’s banner has roused memories of the vet’s story, which were relayed to Maszgay.
“People who have seen his banner are telling me stories about his time fighting in the war that he didn’t tell me!” One of the stories involved his father getting ambushed by machine gun fire and saving some troops while on patrol, according to Maszgay.
Maszgay’s other family members on the banners include hisgrandson Michael DePanicis, who is in the Air Force stationed in Montana.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.