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The Impact of War

Honoring veterans and their families at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery

May 30, 2011

Today the sound of bugles will be heard in every corner of the country as the 131 national cemeteries remember the lives and deaths of men and women veterans. A recently opened cemetery in Bucks Country is a welcome burial place for veteran's families living in our area. WHYY's Elisabeth Perez Luna, visited the Washington Crossing National Cemetery as it prepared for Memorial Day.

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There's something eerily familiar about a veterans' cemetery. We've all seen the endless rows of tombstones, or white markers, often crosses or Stars of David. But when you are standing near a mourning family at this outdoors memorial pavilion, what strikes you again and again is that the uniformity of the cemetery is populated by the stories of individual veterans.

Debbie McGordy: "Dan was close to all of us. He was a field medic and we used to ask him, what do you do? I sawed up a few guys, stitches here, stitches there, he was so casual about it".

On May 17, Jim and Debbie McGordy buried their brother Daniel Patrick McGordy, a 62 year old Vietnam veteran who has just died, after struggling with cancer.

Jim McGordy: "He had a lot of fun stories about the service, as I have too, It's a bond among fellow soldiers. You can't explain it."

Shots and Taps, at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery.

David Kolmetzky: "Everyone here has a common bond, whether they are laid to rest next to a private or a general, a member of the Army next to the Navy, everyone has at least one common denominator of service to their country."

David Kolmetzky is the administrative officer of the Washington Crossing National Cemetery, which is run by the Department of Veterans.

Kolmetzky: "We've seen every range of emotion as in any other cemetery. Many times we share information with them that there not aware of as far as awards and recognition because a lot of the soldiers are so humble they say 'that's my job' whether they were wounded overseas in a war a lot of them just don't share that with their families".

Since opening in January 2010, 1,800 men and women veterans and their families have been buried here. They served in W.W.II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Two of the closest national cemeteries were filled to capacity. A third is only performing cremations. So opening up Washington Crossing means families will be able to bury their loved ones close enough that they can visit easily. It's designed to admit one hundred and twenty four thousand (124,000) veterans within the next fifty years. On average, there are 8 to 10 burials a day.

As we watch a grieving family from a respectful distance, Kolmetzky explains that each burial ceremony follows strict military protocols

Kolmetzky: "Member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard will perform a flag folding ceremony... "

Once the ceremony is over the veteran's family drives alongside a road, flanked by Pennsylvania Army National Guard soldiers in formal salute, followed closely by a group of volunteer veterans paying their last respects. They're members of the Guardians of the National Cemetery.

Victor Teets: "My name is Vicor Teets. So why are you here, how important is it to you? Because I'm a fellow soldier I was in combat in the military and it's an honor for me. It's like your brothers and you are sending them off and I'd like someone to do the same for me someday"

Gene Hamilton: "It's important to remember them".

Teets: "I feel I'm one of the lucky ones that made it back, so this is the least I can do."

On this Memorial Day, the Washington Crossing National Cemetery plans a series of events and ceremonies including a special tribute to the Gold Star Moms and soldiers who went "missing in action" or were taken as prisoners of war.

I'm Elisabeth Perez Luna , WHYY News.

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