Memorial Day celebrations to honor Alle-Kiski Valley veterans
Memorial Day celebrations recognizing local veterans will take all across the Alle-Kiski Valley this weekend.
Nearly 20 local observances will occur, starting today in Allegheny Township where U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire will speak during a service at the memorial to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
From church services to parades, organizers are ensuring that the public remembers the sacrifice of American veterans who fought and died in wars.
"It's to honor our dead soldiers — it's as easy as that," said Marty Seitz, commander of the Lower Burrell American Legion. "It's not just the ones who died in a war — it's for anyone who gave time to the United States in service."
Seitz, an Army veteran, said Lower Burrell's American Legion historically hosts a Memorial Day service; the city's Veterans of Foreign Wars post covers Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
In Lower Burrell, Monday's observance will include a ceremony in the Veteran's Circle area of Greenwood Memorial Park cemetery, a parade beginning at city hall and a noon service at the Wildlife Lodge Road American Legion post with Pearl Harbor survivor Steve Jager of Arnold and state Rep. Eli Evankovich.
Seitz said he fears schools are not teaching military history as thoroughly anymore. He said it's up to veterans and the community to make sure America's youth know the past.
"We've got to keep that going," Seitz said. "We've got to reinforce that without our guys, we could be speaking German, we could be speaking Russian, we could be under a Communist regime right now."
Diane Baer, adjutant at the Kiski Township American Legion, said her group will host its traditional ceremony at Fairview Cemetery in the township's Spring Church neighborhood.
"I think the veterans should be remembered, past and present," said Baer, an Army veteran.
"If we don't recognize Memorial Day, we lose our roots and that connection with our history," said Donna Gardner, an organizer for Freeport's Memorial Day observances. "If we would lose this opportunity, it would be a real tragedy."
Although many of the volunteers are men in their 70s and 80s, Gardner said Freeport makes an effort to involve youngsters. Kindergarteners will lead the Pledge of Allegiance, Freeport Area High School's band and choir will perform and Armstrong County native Aaron Hooks, 28, will be the keynote speaker.
Gardner said Hooks, a veteran of the Pennsylvania National Guard who served in Iraq, had long been involved in the Freeport-based 78th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry group of Civil War re-enactors and has participated in Freeport's Memorial Day celebrations since he was a child.
"We have a wonderful crowd," Gardner said of the estimated 400 or more who attend Freeport's riverfront observance. "We're really trying to continue to expand the participation and influence."
Grace Girardi of New Kensington, who has organized Arnold and New Kensington's Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades for the past two years, said she also is encouraged by the growing number of participants, especially among students.
She said students will be selling flags along the Fifth Avenue parade route to raise money for Peoples Library.
Girardi began working with the city's celebrations in 2009 when the Veterans Day parade nearly was canceled. Due to illness, she's been organizing the Memorial Day observances from a hospital bed with the assistance of John Mandak and others.
"So many people are coming forward for this," Girardi said. "That's what I always wanted."
Girardi said remembering the veterans and restoring the parades to their former glory have been important to her.
"I wanted to bring it back to like it was when I was kid," she said. "I want people to remember what our parents and grandparents gave us."
"It's a happy day because we let people know about the veterans," Seitz said, "but it's a sad day at the same time."
Memorial Day observances
• Allegheny Township: 10 a.m., Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial, Allegheny Towne Center. Keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.
• East Deer: 2 p.m., honor roll, Grant Street, Creighton.
• Harrison: 10 a.m., West Natrona monument; 10:15 a.m., Pond Street; 10:30 a.m., Lock No. 4, off River Avenue. A joint service with the Harrison Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Allegheny Valley Detachment of the Marine Corps League begins at 11 a.m., Mount Airy Cemetery, Natrona Heights.
• Springdale Township: 7 p.m., Our Lady of Victory Church, 1319 Low Grade Road. The Rev. Allan Morris will preside.
• Tarentum: 9:30 a.m., St. Paul German Evangelical Lutheran Church, 300 E. Eighth Ave.
• Tarentum-Brackenridge: 11 a.m., Central Presbyterian Church, 305 Allegheny St., Tarentum. Tarentum VFW and Brackenridge American Legion will sponsor a parade at 1:30 p.m., beginning at Cherry Street in Brackenridge ending at the Riverview Memorial Park amphitheater in Tarentum, where a memorial service will be conducted. Refreshments will be served afterward at the Tarentum VFW on Wood Street.
• Winfield: 11 a.m., outdoor sanctuary of Sower's Chapel. Parking and shuttle available from 10 to 10:45 a.m. at chapel, 100 Iron Bridge Road. In case of rain, service will be indoors.
• Butler: 9 a.m., VA Butler Healthcare Auditorium, 325 New Castle Road. Sponsored by Butler County Veteran's Services.
• Freeport: 9:30 a.m. parade begins at Freeport Junior High School, Fourth Street, and proceeds to Riverside Drive. A service will begin at 10 a.m. in front of Freeport Tower. Speaker is Pennsylvania National Guard veteran Aaron Hooks. In case of rain, services will be in the junior high school auditorium. All events sponsored by the Freeport Veterans of Foreign Wars.
• Indiana Township: 11 a.m., township veterans memorial at Town Hall, 3710 Saxonburg Blvd., Dorseyville. Refreshments will be served afterward. Sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
• Kiski Township: 11 a.m., Fairview Cemetery, Route 56, Spring Church. Speaker is veteran Jim Stiffler. Sponsored by Kiski Township American Legion.
• Kittanning: 8:45 a.m., Kittanning Cemetery. A parade will begin at 10 a.m. and proceed into Riverview Park where a ceremony will be conducted in the Murtha Amphitheater. Speaker is Col. James Nemec. The event is sponsored by the AMVETS and the John T. Crawford Camp, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and Auxiliary.
• Leechburg: 10 a.m. parade begins at Second Street and River Avenue. A memorial service will follow at the VFW, followed by services at the Leechburg Bridge and St. Catherine Cemetery, Gilpin.
• Lower Burrell: 9:30 a.m., Veterans' Circle area, Greenwood Cemetery, Melwood Road. Parade will begin at 11 a.m. at city hall and proceed down Leechburg Road to the American Legion post on Wildlife Lodge Road, where a memorial service will be at noon. Speakers are state Rep Eli Evankovich and Pearl Harbor survivor Steve Jager.
• New Kensington-Arnold: 10:30 a.m., Roosevelt Park, Arnold. The parade will begin at 11 a.m., proceed down Fifth Avenue and close with a service at the Gold Star Mothers Memorial in New Kensington. Sponsored by the New Kensington-Arnold Joint Veterans.
• Springdale: 8 a.m., Colfax Marina; 8:30 a.m., St. Mark Lutheran Cemetery; 9 a.m., Harwick Veterans Memorial; 9:30 a.m., Orville Baptist Church; 10 a.m., Springdale Cemetery. Parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. at Springdale Veterans of Foreign Wars post and proceed to the memorial for an 11 a.m. service.
• Vandergrift: 10 a.m. parade begins at Vandergrift Elementary School and proceeds to the veteran's memorial at the municipal building, where a service will begin about 11 a.m.Additional Information:
From Decoration Day to Memorial Day
The roots of Memorial Day began at the end of the Civil War when women in the South began decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers.
Although President Lyndon Johnson and Congress in 1966 named Waterloo, N.Y., as the birthplace of Memorial Day for beginning to honor war dead 100 years earlier, several other towns • including Boalsburg, Pa. near State College • have laid claim to the day's origins.
Union Maj. Gen. John A. Logan in 1868 declared Decoration Day should be celebrated on May 30. The first observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
It wasn't until after World War I that the day was expanded to honor those killed in all American wars, not just the Civil War.
Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971 and moved it to the last Monday of May.
Source: Department of Veterans Affairs