By Bob Jackson
Scouts honor occasion at cemetery in Poland
The collaborative effort among veterans and youths has been going on for generations.
POLAND — Eleven-year-old Mark Stein had a strong and simple reason for walking through Riverside Cemetery on Saturday, placing small flags at the graves of military veterans.
“Kindness is always a good deed,” he said. “I enjoy doing a kind deed for the veterans who sacrificed their lives to make our country free.”
Mark, a member of Boy Scout Troop 44 of Poland, was one of more than a dozen Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts who joined local veterans Saturday morning for the annual ritual of marking the graves of veterans in Riverside Cemetery. It’s done each year on the Saturday before Memorial Day, said Jeff Vrable Sr., commander of the Sons of the American Legion Mahoning Valley Squadron 15.
The Sons of the American Legion, founded in 1933, is open to sons, stepsons and grandsons of American war veterans, he said.
The Scouts “pretty much do everything, and then we go back through just to make sure they didn’t miss anything,” Vrable said. “They do a really good job.”
Also joining in the effort were members of the American Legion Mahoning Valley Post 15, the American Legion Auxiliary Mahoning Valley Unit 15 and Scout Troops 2 and 54.
Mahoning County commissioners buy the flags each year through the county’s Veterans Services Commission, Vrable said. This year, the county bought more than 860, which should be enough to cover the graves of all veterans in all of the county’s cemeteries.
Robert Zedaker of Poland, scoutmaster for Troop 44, said the Scouts have been coming to the cemetery for the annual event during each of the 20 years he has served as scoutmaster.
“I think it was going on even before that, but I don’t know for how long,” said Zedaker, a Vietnam veteran of the Army. “Some of the kids can use it as community service toward advancement, but most of the kids do it just because they like doing it.”
Martin Larue of Poland, a committee member for Troop 44, said it’s not hard to persuade the Scouts to show up and help. The activity is optional, not mandatory.
“We just tell them about it, and they all want to come,” he said. “I think all the boys who are in town are here this morning.” Some troop members were out of town on vacation for the holiday weekend, he said.
Stein, who said his family moved to Poland from Florida, said he doesn’t entertain thoughts of joining the military someday but added that if he ever did, he would want to be a navigator in the Air Force, like his late grandfather, Harry Fitzgerald.
“He died last summer,” the youngster said. “He doesn’t have his marker yet, so after I leave here, I’m going to the cemetery where he’s buried and put a marker on his grave.”
The Scouts’ participation is welcomed by veterans such as Paul Johnson, 88, and Rod Hosler, 60.
“It’s nice to be out with the kids and hopefully move their minds into an understanding of the reason for honoring the day,” said Johnson, an Army veteran.
Hosler, also an Army veteran, said it’s impressive to look around the cemetery and see so many flags attached to graves.
“A lot of people from Ohio, from right around here, did their duty,” he said.
Johnson said the veterans met briefly with the Scouts before the marking began, instructing them on how to spot graves of military veterans. They were impressed with the respectful attitudes displayed by the Scouts.
“Their scoutmaster [Zedaker] is a veteran, too, so you have a foundation for patriotic service,” Hosler said.
Zedaker said two of his Eagle Scouts are currently members of the Ohio National Guard and were at the cemetery Saturday to help out. One of them lent his helmet, vest and backpack to a couple of the Scouts to wear during the activity.
“It’s not really that heavy, but it’s hot,” said 12-year-old Seth Golden of Troop 44, who was wearing the backpack. “It’s fun to be out here thanking those who served our country.”
Vrable said that’s a large part of the reason for the joint effort among veterans and youngsters.
“We get the kids to come out so they can learn who we are, why we’re here and what we do,” he said.
He said if any graves were inadvertently missed, flags will be available at the cemetery office.