More than 100 people gathered at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne on a brisk, sunny afternoon to dedicate a new burial area for Catholic veterans of the United States armed services.
The sod-carpeted, 320-grave section is marked by a soaring polished granite monument etched with Jesus the Divine Mercy flanked by two American flags.
Msgr. Joseph P. LaMorte, vicar general and moderator of the curia in the archdiocese, blessed the monument and new graves, and offered both the invocation and benediction at the colorful event Nov. 14. Msgr. LaMorte served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves for 40 years. He retired in 2012 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Msgr. LaMorte told Catholic New York that veterans will welcome a dedicated area in a Catholic cemetery. As a parish priest, he traveled significant distances with families to conduct committal services at national and non-sectarian veterans cemeteries.
“The new section is very important and signifies the honor given to veterans for the great sacrifices they made for our country,” he said.
The event was coordinated by Gate of Heaven and the Daughters of Liberty’s Legacy, a Westchester organization that promotes patriotism and preserves history. It included musical selections by the Pipe and Drum Corps of the Police Emerald Society of Westchester and trumpeter Maxwel Lee, as well as a 15-gun salute by costumed members of the 2nd NY Regiment, Brigade of the American Revolution. River Town Young Marines and Hawthorne Boy Scout Troop 1 also participated.
Debra Palazzo, co-founder of Daughters of Liberty’s Legacy, said the new section is “a hallowed place where patriots in arms can rest side-by-side.”
Ron Tocci, director of the Westchester Veterans Service Agency, delivered the keynote address. “The defining moments of our country’s history came during conflicts when sons and daughters answered the call,” he said. He reflected that freedom is an inherited gift whose persistence depends on people willing to defend it.
“Vets are not asking for praise and recognition, they simply want people to acknowledge their contribution,” Tocci said.
Joshua Gaccione attended the ceremony with his young son who wore a sweatshirt from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Gaccione, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception and Assumption in Tuckahoe, helped unveil the monument with other members of VFW Post 2285 Eastchester. He served four years in the U.S. Army, including deployments with the 82nd Airborne to Afghanistan and Iraq. He told CNY, “It’s amazing that vets will have this place to lie together and we will be able to come to commemorate them.”
At the ceremony, Mark Rolston, director of marketing at Gate of Heaven, said the long-anticipated veterans area was developed by cemetery staff over six weeks in the fall with help from local landscapers.
He acknowledged that staff present at the ceremony had the sad duty of burying more than 15 people each day for two months during the height of the pandemic. “I am proud that we never delayed a burial or turned away any family or funeral director,” he said.
The new section is open to veterans who were honorably discharged and a spouse or family member.
The monument is adjacent to a new flagpole, where the American flag and a POW flag will fly.