Westmoreland honors its veterans
Russell Moore Jr. makes a pilgrimage every Memorial Day from his home in Orlando, Fla., to a plastic folding chair in Westmoreland County Memorial Park.
He comes to honor his cousin, Earl W. Long.
“He and I served in Vietnam together. ... I escorted his body back from Vietnam. We buried him right over behind there,” Moore said, gesturing to a nearby hill.
Moore was one of hundreds who gathered Monday in the Hempfield Township cemetery for an annual ceremony honoring local veterans who have died throughout history.
The honor roll of Westmoreland County veterans who died since last Memorial Day was 85 names long.
The day began early for members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 33. Before heading to Memorial Park, they visited about a half-dozen other nearby cemeteries, laying wreaths and other items as well as performing a service at a randomly selected veteran's grave at each site.
Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, France's honorary consul in Pittsburgh, served as the keynote speaker. One of his duties as consul is awarding American World War II veterans the French Legion of Honour medal, his nation's highest award, for their role in liberating the country from Nazi Germany.
But on Monday he discussed an earlier war, the first occasion American troops fought Germans on French soil — 100 years ago in World War I.
“The Americans were lighthearted, cheerful, enthusiastic and dismissive of difficulties,” Garrec said. “ ‘We will soon settle this,' was the doughboy's attitude, and they did. ... Nothing had to happen the way it happened. History could have gone the other way.”
More than 116,000 U.S. servicemen died fighting over two years in World War I.
“They didn't die in vain,” Le Garrec said. “The American spirit is alive.”
A familiar face was missing from this year's ceremony.
Karen Markovitz presented a wreath in honor of Gold Star Mothers every Memorial Day for years, carrying on a duty that once belonged to her mother, Rosemary Cullen, who served as president of the local Gold Star Mothers organization. Markovitz died in November.
Summer Cullen on Monday placed the wreath for the first time, taking over the tradition for her aunt and grandmother.
“When she (Markovitz) passed away, we wanted to keep it within our family,” Cullen said.
Memorial Day isn't just about barbecues and mattress sales, VFW member Robert Krupey said. The playing of taps, the three-volley salute and other symbolism that accompany the memorial service recall the holiday's true meaning, he said.
“This is a reminder, for everyone who comes out here, that Americans value their freedom, and they value everyone who sacrificed for it,” Krupey said.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or email@example.com.