By Sean Barron
Even though Jason Smith was only 3 when his grandfather died, the Poland man’s sense of loss sometimes makes it hard to visit his relative’s gravesite at Poland Riverside Cemetery.
“It’s difficult to come, even though I was young when he died,” Smith said of his grandfather Robert Swantner.
At the same time, however, a feeling of deep pride keeps Smith coming back, especially as Memorial Day approaches, he said.
To that end, Smith, his wife, Heidi, and sons Tyler, 7, and Jacob, 9, were among several dozen people who spent part of Saturday morning placing flags at the graves of deceased military veterans at the cemetery, 110 Riverside Drive.
The event was organized by the American Legion Mahoning Valley Squadron 15, Sons of the American Legion Mahoning Valley Squadron 15 and local Boy and Cub Scouts. Its purpose was to honor veterans of all military branches for their service and sacrifices.
Smith’s grandfather, who served in the Navy during World War II, is buried at the cemetery, along with two uncles, both of whom also were Navy veterans, he said.
“Whether dead or alive, [all veterans] should never be forgotten and every one of them should be thanked by somebody,” Smith added.
Jacob and Tyler said they were proud to do something to honor those who died serving their country.
Among those who scattered through the cemetery with flags in hand were members of Poland-based Boy Scout Troop 44 and Cub Scout Pack 44. Flag-holders of varying shapes and sizes marked military members’ gravesites; some markings contained the name of the war the veteran fought in.
Riverside Cemetery is the resting place for more than 1,000 veterans, many of whom were in World Wars I and II. Others fought in Vietnam, Korea and the Civil War, noted Jeff Vrabel Sr., past commander of the Sons of the American Legion Detachment of Ohio.
Boy Scout troops, along with Brownies and Girl Scouts, also are among those who assist each year with the event, Vrabel said, adding that the flags will remain in place until close to Veterans Day in November.