Col. Edward E. Metzgar told the crowd gathered for a ceremony Monday at National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil Township that enough has been said about “why we commemorate Veterans Day on the 11th month, 11th hour and 11th day.”
During his keynote address, Metzgar instead recounted his most poignant moment serving as a commander overseas.
Metzgar, leader of the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, was serving in Iraq when an improvised explosive device killed a staff sergeant. To honor the soldier, a group of 600 service members held a ceremony at sunset on a landing strip, and eight men in the soldier’s platoon stayed behind after the assembly was dismissed.
Metzgar said each soldier stepped into the light of the open aircraft, where the soldier lay in a casket covered by the American flag.
“They would each take their turn, salute, say a few words … and they would walk into the darkness,” Metzgar said. “That in and of itself is testimony to the young men and women that you’ve sent overseas – devotion to a single American who has done his best to serve his troops.”
Metzgar also pointed out that Pennsylvania has the fifth highest number of casualties since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began. During the ceremony, several politicians addressed the need to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life.
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy reflected on the repercussions of war, including both visible and invisible wounds, such as the lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We must always give thanks as part of healing those wounds,” Murphy said, “and understand that the contributions they make to this country – in their resiliency, their maturity, their fitness, their optimism, their take-action attitude and their faith – are what make this country great.”
Also during the ceremony, the Canon-McMillan High School band played several selections, and students John Paul Gastone, Samantha White, Amber Antle and Trevor Arrigoni sang the national anthem. Kate Matthews, a bagpiper with the Department of Veteran Affairs, also performed.
One new addition to this year’s ceremony was the presence of several youth groups, including the Washington County Young Marines, two JROTC groups from Seneca Valley and Penn Hills high schools and members of the Civil Air Patrol Golden Triangle unit in Moon Township.
Ronald Hestdalen, director of the cemetery, said it is important to commemorate fallen soldiers from past wars, but also to honor and aid veterans who are still alive today.
“Over a million veterans of the second World War are still with us, as are about 21 million of all wars and years since then,” Hestdalen said. “That’s 22 million living American veterans, and 22 million witnesses to both the hard truth that wars still trouble the Earth and the proud fact that courageous Americans of every generation still rise up and step forward to fight for freedom when called upon.”