World War II Wall of Honor Installed at St. Alphonsus Church
WHEELING — About 18 months ago, some parishioners at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Center Wheeling made an interesting discovery. Some broken wooden plaques that held the names of World War II veterans from the parish were uncovered in a forgotten storage area of the gymnasium.
Parishioners Chuck Griffin and Mike Sofka, both veterans, immediately realized the value of what had been uncovered. Soon they set to work to have the plaques refurbished and to establish a permanent Wall of Honor in the downstairs hall at St. Al’s. The room was formerly known as Columbia Hall.
Griffin, a Marine Corps veteran, and Sofka, an Air Force veteran, decided they needed professional expertise to have the project finished properly.
“The wooden plaques were in pretty bad shape … the names were falling out and the insignia at the top of the main one was missing pieces,” Griffin explained. “Still, we were excited to find them and have the opportunity to restore them.”
To meet the cost of a proper restoration project, the men held hot dog sales and various fundraisers.
They contacted the Lucky Duck Restoration company in Pittsburgh that specializes in church renovations and similar projects such as the plaques.
“We raised the money, but it was the entire community that supported our fundraisers to make this happen,” Griffin added.
While the plaques have been installed at the church, the dedication ceremony had to be canceled earlier this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The parish was hoping Bishop Mark Brennan would be able to do a blessing this weekend during a scheduled visit. A formal ceremony with a reception will be planned when health conditions allow such a gathering.
Sofka pointed out that the plaques hold the names of 244 troops from St. Al’s who served during World War II. Of that number, 29 gave their lives during the war, including one woman, Rita Vogler.
Another three females are listed as having served. Many of the names on the plaques reflect the ethnicity of the neighborhood parish with a heavy presence of German families.
One priest, the Rev. Hugh Rauwolf, OFM Cap, an Army chaplain, is among the names of those who served.
Griffin said the Wall of Honor will serve several goals. They hope to gather the names of the World War II veterans from the now defunct St. Ladislaus and St. Mary parishes in South Wheeling and add their names to the wall.
Those churches were closed during the Diocese’s restructuring of parishes. Their parishioners were welcomed into St. Alphonsus, however, not all accepted the invitation.
Griffin and Sofka want to include other names to bring a better sense of unity among the Catholic faithful whose churches were closed.
They also will expand the Wall of Honor to eventually include the names of veterans who served in more recent wars from Korea to Vietnam, from Iraq to Afghanistan.
On a personal note, the World War II plaque contains the name of my late father, Harry Hamm, who served in the U.S. Army and received the Purple Heart after being wounded at the Battle of the Bulge.