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Volunteers overcome US flag shortage to mark soldiers’ graves

Decorating a grave Wednesday in Section 36 of Calvary Cemetery is Mariah Mass of Boardman. She said her dad talked her into coming out to volunteer her time to show respect for veterans who have died. Staff photo / Guy Vogrin

While this year’s battle against COVID-19 may have sidelined a lot of Memorial Day plans, the fundamental reason for this early summer holiday remains intact, as flags still dot the headstones at local cemeteries where our Valley’s bravest are buried.

Every Memorial Day, the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission recognizes deceased veterans by placing a flag upon their graves. Because of the unusual circumstances this spring caused by COVID-19, the group asked family members and friends to recognize their loved ones’ service by placing their own flag on the graves.

Susan Krawchyk, executive director of the Mahoning Veterans Services Commission, said the problem isn’t a lack of volunteers, but a lack of American flags.

“Unfortunately, our flag vendor that we had contracted with had to close (just like everyone else) due to the pandemic,” Krawchyk said. “Our office does not have the flags in stock to decorate for Memorial Day.”

The service organizations were notified, and Krawchyk said most of them took it upon themselves to at least place a wreath with a few flags at the entrance to cemeteries.

More than a dozen volunteers and members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club and American Legion Post 565 in Boardman turned out Wednesday to put flags on veterans’ graves in several sections of Calvary Cemetery on the West Side of Youngstown.

Bob Raver, president of the motorcycle club and post member, said he secured about 750 flags from a Pittsburgh company when he heard about the shortage locally.

“I am not going to let something like a flag shortage slow us down in our efforts to salute our war dead,” Raver said. “We’ve been doing this for years.”

In Trumbull County, Gary Gutelius, who heads up the effort in Warren for the Memorial Day Federation, had his crews place about 2,600 flags and markers on graves in Pineview and Oakwood cemeteries in Warren over the past two weekends. Gutelius said the Memorial Day Federation had secured its flags ahead of the virus.

A Berlin Township effort has gone far beyond putting American flags on graves.

According to township trustee Denny Furman, the Military Banner program has been in full bloom since 2015 since the idea was brought to the Berlin Center Historical Society in 2015 by the late Jeff Goddard.

The program since then has placed about 100 banners honoring the veterans or current service members linked to the township on utility poles along U.S. Route 224 and state Route 534.

“Neither Jeff (Goddard) or I were veterans, but this was our opportunity to give something back to the guys,” Furman said, adding that the program has grown every year with this year’s banners honoring veterans Richard Noble, Robert Patterson and Edward Goldner.

The banners are made of vinyl and silk screened images and PVC-frames and bunting were furnished through the efforts of township resident Andy Zimbardi of Home Depot and Jared Jarvis of Cornerstone Electric.

“We received a NOPEC grant but private donations and funding by the Historical Society and Berlin Ellsworth Ruritans have helped maintained this program,” Furman said.

Last July, a wind storm destroyed 10 of them, and Furman said funds were secured for repairs, he said.

“The amount of money and work involved should not be a question,” Furman said. “This is something for us to honor a veteran.”

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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