Riding a motorcycle can be an iffy proposition in November, but the time of year never deters the Patriot Guard Riders from their mission at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated fully Nov. 4 as the riders gathered for the Cecil Township cemetery’s Monthly Moment of Remembrance, held at 9 a.m. each first Wednesday and open to all who would like to attend.
“The Patriot Guard Riders come out to honor our veterans who did not receive military honors here,” cemetery director Edward Hajduk said. “We do this to honor them for their service.”
Founded in 2005, the nonprofit, all-volunteer Patriot Guard Riders organization is active in all 50 states, with members attending services as shows of respect for fallen veterans and first responders. The group also coordinates Help On The Homefront, a program that provides assistance to veterans and their families.
The most recent Monthly Moment of Remembrance in Cecil represented a special occasion for Ray Zimmerman of Acme, Westmoreland County. He played “Taps” on the bugle at his 100th such ceremony, marking a span of going on nine years.
In recognition of his dedication, the U.S. Navy veteran received words of gratitude from Hajduk and a hearty round of applause from everyone in attendance.
“It’s quite an honor to do this,” Zimmerman said. “It’s just one of my most prized moments in my life.”
During the ceremony, which is held for veterans who have been laid to rest during the preceding month without military honors, Sandy Young of Washington read seven names. After each, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Larry Bresselsmith, a Nottingham Township resident, rang a small bell in remembrance.
Young then continued a tradition at the cemetery by reading “A Veteran’s Last Farewell” by Raymond C. Gugel. The poem concludes with the lines:
Farewell, loyal veterans, we leave you here, our debt to you is vast
To you and every veteran, our gratitude will last
Sleep here brave veteran, our nation bids you well
You have earned your place in paradise, now rest where heroes dwell
Young has been attending the ceremonies for the past eight or nine years, since an uncle who served in Korea encouraged her to do so.
“It’s such an honor to be able to honor our veterans, when so many aren’t honored like they should be,” she said. “It only takes five minutes of your time, and it’s well worth it.”
She noted the latest list of names was relatively short.
“There are an awful lot of times that we have 25, 30 veterans who are buried without honors,” she said.
Others who attended the Nov. 4 ceremony included members of the Honor Guard of American Legion Post 175 in Washington, who provided a rifle salute.
“We have a lot of volunteers,” Hajduk said. “This is a very outstanding community, and what they do to support us, to remember our veterans, it’s just amazing.”
He announced that because of COVID-19, an annual Nov. 11 event at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies is being modified this year.
“On Veterans Day, we will be having a ceremony. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public,” he said.
“It’s going to be a private ceremony for cemetery personnel only.”
As a whole, though, the cemetery will be open for visitation, as it is every day.
From Dec. 16-19, the cemetery will participate in the Wreaths Across America program, which involves the laying of wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery along with more than 2,100 additional locations in the United States, at sea and abroad.
And the morning of Dec. 2 marks the final Monthly Moment of Remembrance for 2020, with members of the Patriot Guard Riders in attendance, as always.