Vandergrift VFW hosts memorial dinner for family of Kiski Area High grad Army Sgt. Jason McClary |
Valley News Dispatch

Vandergrift VFW hosts memorial dinner for family of Kiski Area High grad Army Sgt. Jason McClary

Emily Balser
Lillie McClary hugs her brother-in-law, Jeff Ritter, during a benefit dinner commemorating her late husband at the Vandergrift VFW on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018.
Volunteer Darlene Danka serves food during a benefit dinner for the family of Army Sgt. Jason McClary at the Vandergrift VFW on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018.
Lillie McClary hugs Kaitlyn Waros, who drew a family photo for her, during a benefit dinner for her late husband at the Vandergrift VFW on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018.
Lillie McClary, widow of Army Sgt. Jason McClary who died earlier this month, holds a drawing of her family that was gifted to her during a benefit dinner at the Vandergrift VFW on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018.

The family of Army Sgt. Jason McClary was overwhelmed Sunday by the outpouring of support during a memorial dinner at the Vandergrift VFW.

“There really are no words,” said Lillie McClary, his wife, as she looked around at the crowd.

It’s been just under a month since her husband died after being injured in Afghanistan.

She said friends, family and even strangers are doing everything they can to make sure she and her two children have a happy Christmas and are taken care of.

Sunday’s event drew dozens of people who came to support McClary through monetary donations, words of condolence and acts of kindness.

McClary was brought to tears when she was presented with a hand-drawn portrait of her, her husband and their two children, Jett, 3, and Jason James, 11 months. The portrait was drawn by Gateway High School senior Kaitlyn Waros, 18. She created the drawing from two separate photos — one of McClary taken in his uniform and the other of his wife and two children.

“The support is incredible,” she said. “I never expected any of this.”

Waros, who didn’t know McClary prior to Sunday, said she was honored to do the drawing when she found out what had happened. She said she wanted to go into the military herself, but isn’t able to because of health issues.

“It all means a lot to me,” Waros said. “I’m just glad to give it to her.”

VFW Commander Carl Trusiak said the organization felt moved to do the benefit dinner because McClary was a Kiski Area High School graduate.

During his military career, McClary earned numerous awards including the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. In 2016, he was deployed to Iraq for seven months. McClary had been in Afghanistan since April. He was buried at National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil Township, Washington County.

“It just struck close to home,” Trusiak said. “We felt we needed to do something special for the family.”

McClary’s brother, Jeff Ritter, said he never expected his brother to impact so many people. He described his brother as a kind, soft-hearted person.

“I think that it’s awesome how the community and everyone is reaching out,” he said. “It means a lot.”

Thomas “Ace” Hanzes, state commander of the VFW, said the quick organization and success of the benefit is a true example of community service that is performed through veterans organizations.

“You hate to see a young man’s life being taken,” he said. “We really care — we won’t forget (him).”

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter @emilybalser.

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