CECIL – A handshake and simple thank you, even from a stranger, goes a long way for a combat veteran, U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Castelveter told the hundreds who gathered for Sunday morning’s Memorial Day service at National Cemeteries of the Alleghenies.
The Pittsburgh native and current head of the 99th Regional Support Command in New Jersey urged them not to squander the opportunity to spend time with veterans, asking about their service and listening closely to their stories.
The “crusty” drill sergeant who hollers orders to new recruits or the embedded chaplain who comforted soldiers after losing a friend in combat all played an important role, he said.
“These are the stories of our nation and they deserve to be heard,” Castelveter said. “We won’t ever forget those quiet, professionals who answered the call to serve their nation. It’s these people who don’t want recognition, but we must.”
Many veterans still wear ball caps or jackets bearing the war he or she served in, Castelveter said, which should be an opportunity for even a stranger to offer their thanks and spend a few moments to chat. He offered a reminder that the chances to spend time with those vets who served in World War II and the Korean conflict are quickly slipping away.
“Don’t let that man in the baseball cap walk by without shaking his hand, thanking him and asking his story,” he said.
The hourlong service at the cemetery located in Cecil Township included patriotic songs by the Canon-McMillan March Band, Amazing Grace played by a bagpiper and the 21-gun salute by the Marine Corps League of Washington County. U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, wearing his Navy Reserve uniform, laid one of two wreaths with Castelveter next to an empty chair symbolizing prisoners of war and servicemen who are missing in action.
“They say cemeteries are built for the living … but on this day we remember those who died,” Murphy said. “We remember what they’ve done whether dying in service of their country or after a full life.”
Memorial Day shouldn’t be the only day Americans remember their departed servicemen, Murphy and other speakers said.
“Through our actions every day, not just on Memorial Day, we can honor them,” state Sen. Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon. “Every day.”
Castelveter added that people should enjoy their Memorial Day picnics with friends and family, but he urged them to think about those who have sacrificed their lives both today and every day.
“What day is better than today to commit to those small tasks?” he said. “It’s a somber day, but also a day to rejoice.”