Burns’ bridge-naming bills become law

State trooper, WWII veteran honored for making ultimate sacrifice

HARRISBURG, June 20 – Bills naming separate Cambria County bridges after a World War II soldier killed in action and a state trooper who died in the line of duty became law today, said state Rep. Frank Burns, their prime sponsor.

Burns, D-Cambria, had introduced H.B. 1260 to rename a bridge on a portion of Cooney Road spanning Route 22 in Munster Township as the PFC Thomas A. Cooney Memorial Bridge. He also had introduced H.B. 1371 to rename a bridge spanning U.S. 219 on Tower Road in Croyle Township as the Trooper Herbert A. Wirfel Memorial Bridge, to honor a Pennsylvania state trooper who lost his life Feb. 7, 1982 while on duty.

Burns said the House bills were amended into a Senate bill (S.B. 1153) – a relatively common procedural occurrence – and was signed into law as Act 46 of 2016.

"It’s gratifying to see that these two Cambria County heroes will be forever recognized for their selfless and heroic acts," Burns said. "We can do no better than to honor those who died so we can remain free and safe."

Cooney was born April 28, 1917, and he and his three brothers were raised on a farm outside Lilly. 

While serving in the European Theater of Operation on Oct. 20, 1944, Thomas Cooney volunteered for a mine removal mission and continued in the face of enemy observation and direct hostile fire. He and his fellow engineers encountered heavy sniper and machine gun fire as they cleared mines along a strategically important road in France.

Cooney was later killed in action along with three other engineers when a delayed-action mine detonated.

Wirfel was born in New Germany, Pa., on Oct. 16, 1936 and was the second oldest of nine children of John and Genevieve Wirfel. Herbert Wirfel served with the U.S. Air Force from December 1956 to December 1960. Enlisting in the Pennsylvania State Police in Portage in 1961, he was assigned to Troop D in Butler following graduation.

Wirfel was patrolling U.S. Route 22 in Cambria County when an unidentified vehicle ran through the radar zone at a high rate of speed. While in pursuit, his vehicle struck a snow drift partially covering the passing lane and skidded off the highway into a frozen snow bank. He was pronounced dead at the scene.