JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown unveiled the newest addition to its Heroes Memorial – a digital version of the tribute inside the Murtha Center on the Richland Township campus – on Thursday in honor of Veterans Day.

Students, staff and community members were invited to attend the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial before heading to the building to get the first glimpse of the digital display.

The display was erected roughly 10 years ago and features a piece of steel from Ground Zero and a list of names of those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The idea to digitize the monument came from Pitt-Johnstown President Jem Spectar.

“It dawned on me if we brought our Heroes Memorial inside the Murtha Center, it would be very fitting,” he said.

The late U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha was a U.S. Marine Corps officer who served during Vietnam.

Spectar said the university is proud of its monument, which he also conceptualized, but noted how harsh the winter weather can be in southwestern Pennsylvania.

That’s what made him look into digitizing the feature about a month ago, wanting to provide visitors with the chance to view it comfortably any time of the year.

Spectar enlisted the help of Bob Knipple, executive director of housing and dining, and Jeff Sernell, associate vice president for information technology.

Sernell said he was honored to work on the project and touched to read all the names and reflect on those individuals’ lives.

“It truly reminded me of the cost of freedom,” he said.

Sernell organized the information and created the program to show it.

The new version of the memorial is a scrolling display of the nearly 10,000 names that also features ages, hometowns and military ranks.

“Having all those names there helps you not to forget all those people who sacrificed for us,” UPJ junior Austin Conrad said.

He attended the wreath ceremony with his friends – fellow juniors Alexis Lupey and Aryanna Lupey.

“I think it’s really important we acknowledge they do a lot for our country,” Alexis Lupey said of veterans.

Her father and several other family members served in the military.

Alexis Lupey was proud of the university for its work to preserve this history.

Her sister said she thought the event was a good reminder for members of their generation who might forget about veterans.

Moving forward, the digital memorial will be available on a kiosk at the Murtha Center.

Spectar said Pitt-Johnstown is “very, very proud” of the veterans on campus and in the community, and wants to grow the tribute in the coming years. 

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5054. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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