- COMMUNITY LINKS
A memorial tree was planted Sunday at the Kane Armory along Chestnut Street to honor Staff Sgt. Kenneth VanGiesen, a Kane native who was killed July 18 while serving in Afghanistan with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
A bronze plaque honoring the soldier was installed at the base of the tree.
"The tree is something that will always remind us of him," Lt. Drew Campbell said during the ceremony. "We wanted to do something unique because he was unique. His life may have ended, but the tree will continue to grow in his memory."
Campbell is the commander of the 47-member Kane National Guard unit-- Detachment 1, Company A, 128th Brigade Support Battalion, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
VanGiesen, who resided in Erie, was a member of the Kane unit. However, he was deployed to Afghanistan with another Guard unit when he and two other soldiers were killed after an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated near their truck in a convoy.
The deaths raise to 39 the number of Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. VanGiesen took part in two deployments to Iraq. He went to Afghanistan in March.
The fallen soldier is the son of Sue and Tom VanGiesen of 137 Lincoln St., Kane.
Sue praised the Kane unit for coming up with the plan for the tree and plaque as a memorial to her son, who would have marked his 31st birthday Aug. 3.
"We're honored they wanted to do this in memory of him," Sue said. "It means a lot to us." She said it's "a hard time as well" for the soldiers in the Guard unit in Kane.
"This is a beautiful ceremony," the soldier's father said in commenting on the memorial in the front of the armory. "It's a real tribute to Ken. It shows what his colleagues thought of him."
Tom VanGiesen served in the National Guard for 21 years, including 11 with the Kane unit.
Erin Sirianni, the soldier's longtime girlfriend, attended the ceremony along with her parents-- Frank and Sherry Sirianni of Highland Road, Kane.
"It's very nice for them to plant a tree to honor Ken," Erin said.