No veteran is ever forgotten
Every month there are veterans who pass away who are not given any type of military recognition. Many don't have family or friends to make sure they receive the honorable distinction.
On the first Wednesday of every month, the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies holds a special service to honor veterans who have passed and were buried in the cemetery over the past month, making sure that all are recognized as the heroes that they were.
“This was something that was started when the cemetery was first opened,” said cemetery director Ronald Hestdalen. “Not every veteran receives military honors at the time of their interment and we wanted to make sure that they received the honor that they deserve.”
The short program is usually held in one of the cemetery's small chapels. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders are present — rain, shine or snow.
“We've been doing this now for several years,” said Patriot Guard Riders Pennsylvania State Captain Barry Bioni. “We do this out of gratitude and respect and honor. We enjoy coming here every month to support this ceremony.”
Those in attendance form a semi-circle in the chapel, each holding a flag.
The names of the veterans buried in the cemetery over the past month are read and a bell is then sounded after each name is recited.
At the end of the ceremony each month, veteran and Patriot Guard member Ray Zimmerman of Kecksburg sounds taps.
“We come here every month to honor the heroes who don't have families or the ones who never received any type of military honors,” Zimmerman said. “They deserve to receive the same military honor and recognition that all of our brothers and sisters receive. It's an honor to be a part of this every month to do this for them.”
Members of the Marine Corps League also take part in the program. Hestdalen said that everyone and anyone is welcome to join in the service.
“We have people come from all over the area,” Hestdalen said. “It's open to the public and we would love to see more people come. It's a short ceremony that only lasts about 10 minutes but it really means a lot to those who come. Sometimes people just stop or happen to be in the area. We welcome everyone.”
The ceremony is held at 9 a.m.
The annual Veterans Day program will be held at the cemetery at 11 a.m. Sunday.
Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.