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National Cemetery of the Alleghenies gearing up for wreath-laying ceremony

| Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, 1:33 a.m.

For the 12th consecutive year, volunteers and local civic organizations are planning to gather at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies for a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the veterans interred there. More than 1,000 other such ceremonies will be conducted at the same time Dec. 15 for National Wreaths Across America Day.

Wreaths Across America ceremonies, according to the website of the charity of the same name, were first organized en masse in 2006 and seek to place wreaths on the graves of service members in cemeteries across the United States. The Cemetery of the Alleghenies has participated in the movement each year since its first winter in operation, said director Ronald Hestdalen.

“We have three ceremonies that we conduct at the cemetery. We have Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Wreaths Across America,” Hestdalen said. “Wreaths Across America is our largest ceremony in terms of volunteers and guests that are present.”

Last year’s wreath-laying drew more than 3,000 guests, Hestdalen said, with local Boy Scout, Girl Scout, Patriot Guard Rider and Team Rubicon members volunteering. Hestdalen said public school students come from as far as Uniontown and Connellsville to volunteer for the ceremony.

Wreaths can be purchased through the national charity with money donated from private individuals and local businesses or civic organizations. Wreaths can also be purchased by sponsoring local groups.

Hestdalen declined to provide a specific fundraising sum for this year’s ceremony, but said a “considerable sum” was mustered for the purchase of 11,000 wreaths. As has been the case for the past several ceremonies, Hestdalen said, each grave marker in the cemetery will be covered.

“It’s totally a community effort,” he said. “It’s very heartwarming to see.”

Part of the National Cemetery system, the Cemetery of the Alleghenies first opened in 2005 and serves today as the final resting place for approximately 16,000 veterans and counting, said Hestdalen. The ceremony is open to the public to attend and will be held at the National Ceremony of the Alleghenies at 1158 Morgan Road, Bridgeville 15017 on Dec. 15 at 12 p.m.

Hestdalen noted that access to Morgan Road via Morganza Road will be closed for the construction of part of the Turnpike Southern Beltway Project; he advises those interested in attending to arrive early as parking also fills up early.

Matthew Guerry is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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