Sewickley Herald honors: Memorial Day celebration group recognized
Entering its 123rd year, Sewickley's Memorial Day celebration has blossomed from a small observance to its current four-day-long tribute to veterans — and it's all organized by a committee of just more than a dozen members.
For their unfaltering dedication to honoring those who have served, the Sewickley Memorial Day Committee has been named the 2013 Sewickley Herald Citizen of the Year.
The committee was formed around 1920 by five veterans and $1,500, according to World War II and Korean War veteran James “Pat” Maloney, who has been involved for about 50 years. Originally, it was chaired by the mayor and consisted of local VFW and American Legion commanders and immediate past commanders, but declining membership over the years forced the committee to expand its reach to other members of the community.
The current committee includes 14 members, only six of whom are veterans.
The four-day tribute kicks off each year on Friday with a flag retirement ceremony in Wolcott Park, followed by a fireworks display at dusk. On Saturday, a wreath-laying ceremony is held aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Osage, and on Sunday, a memorial service for veterans is held in a different church each year. Monday is the Memorial Day parade, followed by a ceremony in Wolcott Park. The extended weekend ends with a ceremony in Sewickley Cemetery.
Maloney said the overall cost of the event has grown from an estimated $700 to $800 in the 1950s and '60s to about $15,000 today, which is funded through contributions from the community.
“It's gotten a lot more progressive and a lot more celebrating,” Maloney said.
Air Force veteran Bill Fluharty, who has been on the committee for 25 years, agrees.
“A couple of us old-timers probably didn't agree with the fireworks, but (Mayor Brian Jeffe) was trying to get more people (to come),” he said.
“People like it. It's okay.”
Maloney said, despite how well-attended the more celebratory events are, the real purpose of the weekend is honoring those who have served.
“Always, the most important part is the finale at the cemetery,” he said. The ceremony includes the laying of wreaths and the playing of “Taps” for lives lost.
Committee members said they are happy with the turnout each year from local residents and those outside the community.
“It can't get much bigger,” Fluharty said.
“It's been a very successful venture,” Maloney added.
Fluharty, who dons Revolutionary War garb to honor his ancestors during the Memorial Day weekend events each year, said this year, he considered quitting the American Legion, and subsequently, the Memorial Day committee.
Fluharty, who will turn 80 later this year, said he ultimately chose to keep going. He needed something to occupy his mind following the death of his 18-year-old grandson, Trevor, he said.
But he knows he can't remain involved forever.
“Maloney, Sonny (Abercrombie) and myself have been there the longest. It's mainly us three guys,” Fluharty said.
“But us three guys are getting up there. Pat and Sonny are both in their 80s. You can't go on forever.”
He and Maloney said they are concerned about who will carry on the tradition after they are gone.
“One of these days, there's not going to be any vets (on the committee) anymore,” Fluharty said.
“Eventually, it'll just pass into history like a lot of other stuff has done. It's probably not too many years away.”
Maloney said he plans to stay involved as long as he can. He said the borough has everything catalogued in case they need to take over in the future.
“It's something that has to be continued forever,” he said. “I believe this is one of the cherished things that should never be forgotten.”
But in the meantime, the committee has Memorial Day down to a science. They begin planning in January or early February, lining up speakers for events and bands, groups and other organizations for the parade.
“Things fall together pretty good because we've been doing it so long,” Fluharty said.
Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.