On Sunday, wounded Afghanistan veteran Sgt. Adam Hartswick’s words stirred a crowd gathered at Pine Hall Cemetery for a Memorial Day service.
The soldier, standing on prosthetic legs a year after losing limbs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, asked the crowd to honor and remember those who didn’t return home, including a number he called friends.
Sometime the following day, late Memorial Day or early Tuesday morning, American flags still swaying beside graves, vandals entered the cemetery and knocked over 15 headstones.
Police were looking for suspects Tuesday and investigating to determine whether it’s connected with destruction at historic Boalsburg Cemetery earlier this month.
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Ron Strouse, the Pine Hall Cemetery caretaker who discovered the vandalism, is left to wonder why.
“One of my first thoughts was, ‘when Adam Hartswick was here, if whoever did this had been here and heard his speech, they probably wouldn’t have done this,’ ” Strouse said. “His speech was so moving; what happened to the soldiers with him.”
Ferguson Township police said the latest incident happened sometime between 7 p.m. Monday and 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Strouse was among a group removing flags placed in the cemetery for Memorial Day when someone noticed a headstone had been toppled. They found another and another and called police.
“I just just very sick about it,” Strouse said. “The goal (of a cemetery) is to preserve a heritage for generations and generations. When someone comes in with a sick act like this, that heritage might go away.”
Fortunately, the markers at Pine Hall Cemetery initially appear to be largely intact.
Strouse said a crew from Mayes Memorials in Lemont plans to help hoist the 3,000- to 4,000-pound stones back into position and to further inspect for any possible damage.
The stones, made of granite, are considerably newer and seem to have fared better than some of the ancient markers that were desecrated at the Boalsburg Cemetery.
There, headstones laid cracked and broken. Some dated back in the 1800s. Vandals damaged 50 headstones in Boalsburg, causing more than $100,000 in damage and shocking and angering local residents.
Harris Township officials and others are offering a $3,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in that case.
Investigators in the most recent case said Tuesday they will work with State College police to determine if the two are related.
Ferguson Township police said in a short release that they had collected evidence from the scene but didn’t provide additional details. Officers were not in the station Tuesday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.
Anyone with information or who may have seen suspicious activity are asked to call police at 237-1172 or go to www.twp.ferguson.pa.us.