Eleven heroes finally at peaceful rest at Pa. cemetery
Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.
BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. — A Fayette County Vietnam veteran’s five-year battle to ensure forgotten comrades received military burials ended at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies near Bridgeville on Thursday.
The unclaimed cremains of 11 veterans were laid to rest there with full military honors. Cremains of four other veterans who had family in attendance were included in the service.
Shunning the spotlight, Lanny Golden of North Union stood with dozens of other veterans and civilians in a semicircle on a hillside at the Washington County cemetery. They clutched U.S. flags and kept silent watch during the two-hour ceremony.
Below them, uniformed service members placed urns containing the men’s cremains onto a stone wall for the ceremony, riflemen fired volleys, a lone bugler played taps and elected officials memorialized the fallen.
“So many soldiers have earned this and don’t get it,” said Golden after the ceremony, which was attended by approximately 400 veterans, military personnel and civilians. Many had accompanied the cremains in a milelong, police- and motorcycle-escorted motorcade from Uniontown to the cemetery.
“I didn’t know the size of it,” Golden said of the crowd, noting he was pleased with the turnout but would have preferred to see more civilians. “I had hopes. I can’t be disappointed.”
Coordinated by the Missing in America Project, the service was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania to take advantage of a newly passed law, Act 101 of 2012, that allows funeral homes to relinquish unclaimed veterans’ cremains for burial in national cemeteries without fear of liability, said state Rep. Deberah Kula, a Democrat who represents parts of Fayette and Westmoreland counties.
Golden started to push for the law after learning from a veterans organization that the cremains of as many as 500,000 unclaimed veterans are sitting in funeral homes and other locations nationwide, awaiting proper burial.
Golden focused his efforts on Fayette, enlisting the help of veterans’ advocates and Kula to have the law passed.
John Fabry, a Fairchance funeral director who coordinated Thursday’s service, said the cremains, some of which had sat unclaimed for up to a decade, were collected from five Fayette funeral homes and the coroner’s office.
The daughter of one of those veterans, June Vincent, 72, of Hopwood, said her father, World War II Navy veteran Charles Vincent, had wanted to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Because her mother, Judith, wanted the couple’s remains interred close to home, she kept their cremains in urns in her home until learning of the Missing in America Project’s efforts.
“These were the first cremains to go to MIAP for burial,” Vincent said. “They thought if I would give mine up, other people would follow.”
Although Judith Vincent was not a veteran, her cremains were interred alongside her husband’s.
Veterans, many in uniform, stood ready at the cemetery for hours in the sun, waiting on the cremains’ arrival. Single file, they lined a walkway, standing at attention and saluting as uniformed Marines and Army, Navy and Air Force personnel carried urns containing their fallen comrades from a hearse to the stone wall.
Among the veterans was 91-year-old Battle of the Bulge survivor Albert Cresson of Armbrust and 82-year-old Korean War veteran Tony Fannerella of Greensburg.
“It’s a great privilege for all of us to be here, to be a small part of this,” said Fannerella. “It’s time we pay homage to them for what they did.”
John Kenes of Uniontown, an 88-year-old retired Marine Corps master sergeant who suffered shrapnel wounds in World War II and Korea, said he felt it was his “patriotic duty” to attend. Retired U.S. Marines First Sgt. Bernard Kieta, 80, of Smock, a Korean War veteran, said he “wouldn’t have missed this if the world had come to an end.”
John E. Spisso of Unity, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of Bataan in the Pacific Theater, said the ceremony was something that “needed to be done for a long time.”
“Now we can finally take care of them, to have a final resting place,” Spisso said. “Leave no veteran behind.”
Golden, who on Thursday marked the exact day 44 years ago he was wounded in Vietnam when a bomb exploded as he used a machete to clear bamboo, said he hopes the ceremony and the new law will inspire other veterans groups statewide to seek out unclaimed veterans’ cremains and give them proper military burials.
“Hopefully, this is just the beginning,” said Golden. “There are more out there.”