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60 flags line national cemetery's roads in tribute to veterans in Memorial Day service

| Monday, May 27, 2013, 12:07 a.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Lauren Olesky (left), 24, of Monongahela comforts Meghan Bagnell, 21, of Monongahela as they stand at the grave of her father, James Bagnell, on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil. Bagnell served in the Army in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Mary Ellen McKenna, 58, of Cecil helps her niece, Lexie Smith (center), 12, of Scott Township and Amber White (right), 38, of Scott Township plant flowers at the grave of their uncle, Robert J. McKenna, who served in the Army during Vietnam, on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Michael Lisjak, 39, of Greenwich, Conn., presses a kiss into the headstone of his father, Leonard T. Lisjack, as Kaitlin (center), 9, and Brady Lisjak, 6, look on on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Michelle Paris (center), 59, of Houston, is comforted by her mother, Phyllis Chabossol (right), 82, of Houston and Anne Germany, 60, of Penn Hills during the Memorial Day program on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in the Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil plans to add more than 10,000 burial sites for veterans.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Michael Frappier, 3, hugs his mother, Wendy Fiegel, 29, both of Carnegie, as they leave flowers at the grave of Michael's father and Fiegel's fiance, Marine Justin F. Frappier, on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in the Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The Patriot Guard Riders stand in line with the American flag on Sunday, May 26, 2013, during the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies' Memorial Day program in Cecil.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Kelsey Henderson, 14 months, of Houston, touches a plaque with her great-grandparents' names as she is held by her grandfather, Chuck Henderson, 60, of Elizabethtown, Ky., on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in the Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Jim Fike, 66, of Trafford holds his head by the grave of his son, Robert J. Fike, on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in the Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil. Fike, who served in the Army, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
The Patriot Guard Riders stand in line with the American flag during the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies' Memorial Day program on Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Cecil.

Wearing her late husband's Army cap, Florence Komar bent down and kissed his gravestone Sunday in the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.

“I'm here because it's Memorial Day and I wanted to give tribute to my husband, John,” said Komar, 78, of Moon, who attended the Memorial Day ceremony with about 800 others in the national cemetery in Cecil, Washington County. “He fought in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge with Gen. (George S.) Patton. He was a gunner in a tank. We used to go to all of his Army reunions.”

The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies opened in 2005 and has about 7,300 people buried there, said Director Ronald Hestdalen.

The site covers 292 acres — only 90 have been developed — and has room for 160,000 caskets. It's not uncommon to have as many as 10 people per day buried there, Hestdalen said. It's one of three national cemeteries in Pennsylvania with open burial space.

As part of the Memorial Day ceremony, an “avenue of flags” lined the streets into the cemetery. The 60 flags flown had been draped on caskets for veterans buried there and donated by families. The cemetery flies them on Memorial Day and Veterans Day in lieu of placing flags at every grave.

Still, many people brought flags or flowers to decorate the headstones.

Marilyn Ursenbach, 84, of Bethel Park sat quietly in front of the grave of her husband, Harvey Ursenbach, a World War II veteran. She and her daughters decorated his gravestone with flowers.

“I'm here because I love my husband. I still do, and I miss him,” Ursenbach said. “He served in the U.S. Army Air Force. He loved Memorial Day. As soon he heard this cemetery was open, he was out here the second day. There was only about one gravestone then.”

Sunday's ceremony, which had speeches and music, drew tears from some family members of the deceased.

Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, retired from the Marine Corps, reminded the crowd that it's people who win wars.

Quoting President Ronald Reagan from a Memorial Day ceremony in 1986, Johnson said, “If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does.”

Shelly Susan, 41, of Baldwin cried during the ceremony and clutched a bouquet of flowers for the grave of her dad, Donald J. Gibb, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War.

“He was very proud of his service,” Susan said.

Gibb's wife, Irene Gibb, 62, of the South Side, said he died three years ago on the Thursday before Memorial Day.

“My husband fought in Vietnam, and I don't think the men in Vietnam were recognized the way they should have been,” Gibb said. “Now he's buried amongst the soldiers he was so proud of.”

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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