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.”