Standing tall against gunmetal gray skies, the Veterans Memorial at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, in Annville, Lebanon County, one recent Saturday welcomed a steady stream of visitors. Some came to mourn the loss of a loved one, others to explore the clean, elegant and poignant design of the largest veterans memorial in the country.

The $6 million memorial, designed by Charles J. Frederick of West Chester, was dedicated on Oct. 7, 2001. The largest veterans memorial of any of our national cemeteries, the structure is 360 feet long, 85 feet wide, and soars 107 feet high. It is the first in Pennsylvania to honor those who served at all times and in all branches of the military, in times of war and of peace.

It took veterans, private industry donors and the state about 13 years to raise the funds to build the memorial.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the memorial design is "intended to evoke the ruins of a war-torn building centered in a land of solemnity. Its architecture is peaceful and harmonious, containing the elements of air, land and water representative of the battlefields where our veterans fought for our freedom. A tomb for all fallen soldiers, 'known' or 'unknown, is strategically placed, mindful of the sacrifices shared by veterans in the cause of freedom."

The memorial stands sentinel over the graves of some 38,000 veterans and their family members, among them a goodly number of local men and women.

Among those interred in the 677-acre cemetery this year are U.S. Marine Corps veteran Orvel L. Reed, of Coaldale, who died June 21, 2010; and Army veterans Daniel H. Miller, III, of Lansford, who died April 30, 2011; Kenneth J. Hill, of Coaldale, who died July 11, 2010; Richard Russell Reinhart, of New Ringgold, who died July 28, 2011; and Leroy C. Broadt, of Weissport, who died Nov. 16, 2011.

Taking a place

among heroes

On Dec. 23, Louis J. DeAngelo of Saint Clair my "honorary Uncle" Louie took his place among those heroes.

As an unsuspecting nation barreled toward the Great Depression, Louie, whose sweet smile and most gentle nature belied a sharp wit, was born, and raised in Girardville. One of 13 children, he grew up in a warm, close-knit Italian family.

Like most young men of the coal region, Louie joined the Army, serving in World War II. An Army Corporal Tec-5, he served in France, where he spent weeks in a foxhole, a battlefield experience that was seared into his soul.

Unlike most young men, Louie re-enlisted soon after mustering out of his first tour of duty. This time, he laid his life on the line for his country in Korea, serving with the Fifth Ordnance and Medium Maintenance Company.

After serving his country in those two wars, Louie came back home to Girardville, where he worked as a diesel mechanic and bred boxer dogs.

Louie lived life fully engaged, working hard, learning well, loving and laughing. His journey through life was not always smooth – he lost two wives and battled cancer – but his strong Catholic faith and love of family saw him through.

In his later years, Louie's world shrank to a comfortable sphere. He loved to cook – baking pies, the ingredients of which depended on whatever ingredients he had on hand. His rhythm of life followed the drumbeats of faith he never missed the daily televised rosary and his family, including his daughters, Bonnie and Louise, each of whom he lived with in his final years, and surviving sisters, Lenore and Anna, who lived close by.

Louie died on the morning of Dec. 17 as he happily puttered about his home.

On Dec. 23, a motorcycle contingent of Soldiers Angels, Patriot Guard Riders and American Legion Riders accompanied the hearse as Louie made his final journey, to Indiantown Gap National cemetery. Once there, the riders, holding American flags, stood on either side of the walkway that leads to the shelter in which the brief, moving ceremony is held.

Louie's flag-draped coffin was guarded by two soldiers. After prayers, a eulogy, a volley from the Indiantown Gap rifle squad, and Taps, the soldiers carefully and precisely removed the flag from his coffin and folded it, just so, in a triangle.

Then, one soldier kneeled in reverence to present to the flag to Bonnie, Louise and Louie's son, Walter. Another daughter, Marinette, was unable to travel from her home in France to attend the ceremony.

"This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service," the soldier said softly.

Louie's daughters and son, ever mindful of the gravity of their father's service to his country, accepted the flag. As they held it close, more visitors could be seen in the distance, quietly following the walkway to the heart of the Veterans Memorial, perhaps to pause and reflect on the sacrifices that brought it into being.