Saturday’s annual “Wreaths Across America” event at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies honored veterans. The tradition is in its’ twelfth year and takes place in four national cemeteries across the United States. “It’s overwhelming to see all these supporters,” said cemetery director Ronald Hestdalen. “It’s a sign of appreciation for veterans and their sacrifices.”
Rocky Bleier is a former professional American football player as well as a veteran. He’s been the recipient of four Superbowl rings during his football career and during his military career, he obtained a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. His football accolades paled in comparison on Saturday as he approached the gravesite of Andrew Hawes, a staff sergeant in World War II. Hawes passed away in 2013, at home at the age of 94. Bleier was one out of approximately 3000 others that stopped by the cemetery to give respects to those who’ve fallen serving our country. Each veterans has their our personal story and Beleir is no different. During the time he served in the Vietnam War, Belier lost a foot due to a grenade. It is increasingly important to give proper recognition to those who fought for our country and paid the ultimate price. Their lives and what they left behind: their personal stories, friendships and families are one of the few things that have helped leave an impact and propel future generations to realize what was the cost of freedom.
Since 2009, when Hestdalen arrived at the cemetery to be the director, attendance for the event had been somewhere between 300 and 400 people who put wreaths on gravesites. Now, the crowds and appreciation loomed larger. This year, the cemetery had a wreath for each of its more than 10,100 gravesites. Not only is this remarkable, it is simply comforting that the effort is more far reaching than it was a decade or so ago. The cost for the event is covered by many donors, but one of the most recognizable ones in the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a statement, team president Art Rooney II said the gift was intended to honor “a sacrifice that will always be remembered with gratitude and reverence.” As they should be.