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Published on: Monday, July 8, 2024 read more ...


Former ANC Employee Provides Special Opportunity to Veterans from Altoona

By Kevin M. Hymel on 5/14/2024

Three retired U.S. Army veterans rose from their wheelchairs, stood, and walked across Arlington National Cemetery’s memorial plaza to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All three then snapped sharp salutes when an Army bugler sounded Taps. The men had come from their retirement facility in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on May 2, 2024, to honor their fallen comrades and those who gave their lives for their country.

Maj. Gen. Ronald Sweeney and Spc. John R. Pressler served in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries, while Sgt. Maj. Ray Davis served in Panama, Somalia, and Iraq. “Being part of a wreath laying ceremony was a great honor,” said Sweeney after the ceremony. “It made me think of all those Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who are serving abroad.” Pressler never imagined he would be part of a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington. “That felt good,” he reflected. Davis thought of all the friends he lost in service to their country. “As soon as we pulled into the cemetery, I got goosebumps because of all the people buried here.”

Sweeney noticed a female guard walking the mat in front of the Tomb, something he had never seen during his time in the Army, and later commented, “Things have changed for the better.”  

The ceremony, and the visit, had been organized by the staff at the James E. Van Zandt Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The Medical Center’s Executive Director Derek Coughenour credited his Public Affairs Officer John Harlow for the visit. “John, a former Arlington National Cemetery employee, was proud of his time at the cemetery and gave us chills when he talked about it,” said Coughenour. “His contacts here made it possible for these proud veterans to lay that wreath.”

After the ceremony, Harlow walked over to Sweeney and asked him if the wreath laying had been worth the three-hour drive down from Altoona. Without missing a beat, Sweeney told him, “Oh my God yes.”