Among the American troops storming the beaches of Normandy June 6, 1944, was U.S. Army Technical Sgt. John Collins of Dormont, who took shrapnel in his leg while surviving D-Day.
He later was honored with the Silver Star Medal, the United States’ third-highest award for combat valor, and a Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained during the Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled France.
Members of his family take a great deal of pride in his service, and since his death in 1991, they have been taking care of the gravesite he shares with his wife, Hannah, at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Peters Township.
Several years ago, his granddaughter Lindsey Coy noticed some veterans had U.S. flags placed at their graves, while others, including Sgt. Collins, did not. So she asked cemetery manager Glen Connell about why that would occur.
He explained Queen of Heaven received only a certain amount of flags from various sources for placement, not enough to take care of all the veterans who are laid to rest there. And even though Boy Scouts, members of veterans’ organizations and other volunteers helped put the flags where they belonged, the effort always could use more assistance.
Since then, Coy has been bringing together volunteers, including her relatives and work colleagues, to ensure thousands of veterans within the cemetery are acknowledged properly.
“I think after everything that men and women do for this country, they should at least have a flag on their gravestone,” she said.
A quality assurance specialist for Peoples Natural Gas, she approached the company about the need at Queen of Heaven. Peoples has responded by supplying the flags each year, and Coy and her husband, Kevin, coordinate the volunteer aspect, assigning sections of the spacious cemetery to various helpers.
At 195 acres, in fact, Queen of Heaven is the largest cemetery developed exclusively by the Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
This year’s flag placement occurred May 15, which happened to be National Armed Forces Day. Plus the weather cooperated fully, as it usually does for the occasion.
“A lot of our family members are buried here, so it’s nice to come out on a nice day and get some exercise, and we’ve always lucked out,” Lindsey Coy said.
Connell’s family members, wife Marcia and daughter Parker, also participated in the effort.
“I love that we can make this actually make this be what it should be for Memorial Day for the veterans who are here,” the cemetery manager said. “It’s a big thing that we have circled on the calendar every year.”