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CAHS Patriots lay more than 400 wreaths at national cemetery

A cold wind blew the promise of winter as row by row family members and volunteers placed wreaths against 4,000 of the marble tombstones at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies on Saturday as part of Wreaths Across America. This national movement honors late veterans in more than 700 cemeteries in all 50 states.

"You're on sacred ground," cemetery director Ron Hesdtalen told the hundreds gathered at the Bridgeville site to honor the fallen during a brief ceremony before the wreath laying. "Take a second to read the headstone as you place the wreath, because every headstone has a story."

Brother Damien Murkley, OFM, chaplain of the Catholic War Veterans, Uniontown, offered a prayer of remembrance for those who had given "the last full measure of devotion" and asked that God would "bless us that we might work for a world full of peace." Murkley served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean Conflict.

MSGT John Kenes, 87, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. "Thank you all for this great turnout on this day for honoring our fallen comrades. It's good to see so many people, especially families with young children."

Among those honoring veterans on Saturday were 42 members of the CAHS Patriots, who had sold 412 wreaths. The Connellsville group first sold wreaths in 2008.

English teacher Linda Shearer founded the CAHS Patriots in 2003 and the group reaches out to armed service members by sending thousands of packages to those serving in the Middle East; to veterans by honoring them with a meal and ceremony each Veterans Day and to those who have passed by participating in the wreath-laying ceremony.

CAHS Patriots President Kelsey Conn, a senior from Connellsville, has participated in Wreaths Across America for three years. She joined the organization because "it was a really good cause and a way to give back to those who put their lives on the line for us."

Senior Miranda Hosfelt of Bullskin has been a member of the Patriots throughout her high school career. "This is my third time here," she said. "We try to sell as many as we can. I joined the Patriots because you get to meet and help a lot of people."

"This is my second year with the Patriots," said Denni Claycomb of Vanderbilt, a junior. "My family are veterans and it's important to me to remember all veterans' service."

"It's a privilege to be part of this," Shearer said, her devotion warming a cold autumn day.

The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies has been in existence since 2006. It marks the final resting place for 5,409 veterans.

Hestdalen looked at the rows of white stones decorated with evergreen branches and red bows. "It just gets bigger every year," he said.

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