Rose Hill Cemetery program gives all the chance to 'thank a veteran'

  • The 1st Maryland Infantry Company #1 and the 24th Virginia Cavalry Civil War Re-enactors participate at the annual Rose Hill Memorial Remembrance Program held on Saturday with a volley of gun fire.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Sheila Sweigert stared across the lawn of Rose Hill Cemetery toward the American flag flapping in the breeze.

The only sounds were the cry of taps and the faint singing of birds.

It was a solemn moment in which she honored her deceased son, Chad Daniel Sweigert, and others who have served in the U.S. armed forces.

She hoped the Memorial Day Remembrance Program Saturday morning would impact her grandchildren, Alexis, 8, and Jacob, 5, who stood by her side.

“I want the kids to know that Memorial Day is something other than a holiday to have a cookout and go to the pool,” she said. “I’m trying to teach them where our servicemen and women are going when they join the service.”

Sweigert’s son, Chad, served with the U.S. Marines Second Marine Division in Iraq. He died in July 2010 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident while he was home on leave.

The Marine Corps has been “unbelievable,” Sweigert said. Some of Chad’s comrades attended his memorial service and returned to pay respects last year on the first anniversary of his death. The servicemen since have served in Afghanistan, and plan to visit Sweigert again in July.

The Rose Hill remembrance program included patriotic and sacred music by members of the Mason Dixon Barbershop Chorus known as The Polished Four and by bagpiper Rick Conrad; a 21-gun salute by AMVETS Post 10 color and honor guard; gunfire volley by re-enactment groups; and remarks by Thomas B. Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bill Divelbiss, executive vice president of Rose Hill, said most of the roughly 100 people who attended the remembrance program had poignant personal experience with military service.

“Everybody here is a veteran or has one in their family,” he said. “These are men and women who know what needs to be done and they do it. If not for them, we could be a Russian territory or under communism. Who knows?”

Divelbiss said Rose Hill hosts the annual program to recognize veterans both living and deceased. The cemetery is the home of Washington Confederate Cemetery, where about 2,500 Confederate soldiers are buried.

Lester Hart, 94, of Hagerstown, wore a decorated Army uniform from his service in Italy in World War II. He shared a story of being blown out of a foxhole with Bob Dole, who later became a U.S. senator and presidential candidate.

“I think the stories need to be told about what the men and women of this country have done,” Hart said. “It’s hard for people to understand what they haven’t been through, but these stories are true.”

Connie Jones, 66, of Hagerstown, donned a scarf and earrings bearing the U.S. flag while her grandsons, Ty Wade, 13, and C.J. Brothers, 7, waved small flags in the air. Jones’ boyfriend of 29 years, Woody McNemar, a Vietnam veteran, is buried at Rose Hill.

Cory Brandt, 28, of Hagerstown, said he attended the program as a way to honor his grandfather, who served in the Navy aboard the USS Honolulu during World War II.

“It’s good for people to remember where we came from, to remember our veterans,” Brandt said. “You like your freedom, you thank a veteran.”

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