Scouts and other volunteers put a shine on veterans memorials

Kelly Frederick says he isn't surprised by the mutual support that veterans and Boy Scouts provide for each other.

Mr. Frederick was an assistant scoutmaster with Troop 304 in Latrobe in 2010 when Chris Davidson chose to restore a helicopter that was part of a Vietnam War memorial as his Eagle Scout project. Mr. Davidson is one of many local Scouts who have picked projects linked to veterans in their efforts to earn Scouting's highest rank.

"I think there is a natural connection between the two," Mr. Frederick said. "I think the boys, who wear uniforms, can identify with armed service uniforms and the way the military does things. And many veterans get involved as Scout leaders."

Boy Scouts, however, are not alone in helping to ensure that people don't forget the sacrifices of service members. County and municipal officials, community volunteers, and organizations such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars all help to care for, renovate and create new monuments to honor the men and women who risked their lives in America's conflicts. Monday is Veterans Day, and many of the markers will be decorated with wreaths and flower bouquets.

Most of the memorials in southwestern Pennsylvania have been erected and are maintained by local people. A drive through the Mon Valley or a bicycle ride along the Panhandle Trail shows that almost every borough and township has a bronze plaque or a granite marker to honor residents who served in the armed forces.

Barry A. Grimm, director of Washington County's Veterans Affairs office, noted, "We supply flags to 44 different organizations and individuals for cemeteries and memorials."

In addition to numerous community markers, bigger municipalities are home to large-scale memorials. They include the 9-foot-tall bronze Civil War soldier that has looked out over Greensburg since 1925 and the region's newest tribute to veterans -- the Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial. It will be dedicated Dec. 6.

Rings of honor

"If there is a group that deserves to be honored, it's veterans," Butler County Eagle Scout Ian Ashbaugh said. "They are the ones who preserved our freedom -- and we should preserve their memorials."

Ian is a member of Boy Scout Troop 5, sponsored by Trinity Lutheran Church in Center, and a senior at Butler Area Senior High School. He rounded up more than 60 people to help restore the Rings of Honor at the military memorial in Butler City's Diamond Park. He estimated that he and other volunteers put in more than 160 hours cleaning and repainting about 1,100 memorial bricks.

The information on the bricks includes names and ranks of service members, branch of service and years in the military. All of that information, after being checked for accuracy, is being entered into a computer spreadsheet program. Eventually the data will be searchable online and linked to a map showing the location of each brick at the memorial.

John Cyprian, Butler County's director of veterans services, recommended the Rings of Honor restoration project. Volunteers who have worked on the project included Scouts from Troop 3, members of the Butler Lions Club, Ashbaugh family members, friends and local veterans.

"The project took a lot of time, but it was worth it," Ian said. The task included cleaning and scrubbing the bricks to remove dirt, gum and tar, and then relettering the names and other information with black concrete floor paint.

Cooperative effort

Restoration of a Vietnam War memorial in Greensburg's Lynch Field was a multiyear fix-up effort that involved two Boy Scout troops; members of at least two Veterans of Foreign Wars posts; local officials, including longtime Greensburg Fire Chief Ed Hutchinson; and veterans.

The work began in 2010 when Mr. Davidson, now 20, of Unity, started the project at the urging of Chief Hutchinson. The helicopter Mr. Davidson restored as his Eagle Scout project is the centerpiece of a memorial honoring chopper crew members who died during the Vietnam War. The aircraft had become weather-beaten and had been damaged by vandals.

Mr. Davidson's adviser on the project was his scoutmaster, Bill Kemerer.

"Chris is into military history," Mr. Kemerer said. "He was going to do everything he could to bring the helicopter back to its original appearance."

"He spent an entire summer down there -- scraping and painting and filling and sanding and sanding and more sanding," his father, Ralph Davidson, recalled.

Restoration of the helicopter was a large undertaking, but it made for an ideal Eagle project, Mr. Kemerer said. Nineteen volunteers put in almost 300 hours on it.

"Chris had to show leadership both in planning and then getting volunteers to help carry it out," he said. "His efforts reflect the values in the Scout oath: duty to God, country, other people and yourself."

Mr. Davidson is currently an engineering student at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown campus, and when he is home from school, he sometimes will stop by the park to check on the helicopter. "I like to see how the old girl is doing," he said.

Vietnam veteran Richard Wilkinson, a retired Greensburg police captain, had been the driving force behind a second project at the helicopter memorial until his death in May. He was assisted by members of VFW Post 88, where he was a member.

Tim Simkovic, a member of Boy Scout Troop 405 in Greensburg, took over completion of the memorial as his Eagle Scout project. The renovated memorial site now includes a new flagpole, landscaping and lighting. When the memorial was dedicated in August, the ceremony included a 21-gun salute by an honor guard from VFW Post 33.

Tim, 17, is a senior at Hempfield Area High School. Mr. Wilkinson was a family friend who urged him to select the helicopter memorial as his Eagle project. The Scout estimated that more than 30 volunteers took part in the undertaking.

"Scouts and veterans have a strong patriotic connection," Troop 405 Scoutmaster Eric Houston said. "The boys know what sacrifices the veterans have made, and it's an annual troop project for us to go to local cemeteries and put up new flags on veterans' graves."

New home for a soldier

Greensburg's 88-year-old bronze veteran wears the uniform of a Union soldier, but the statue represents those who served in all the nation's wars, Lou DeRose said.

Mr. DeRose, a lawyer in Greensburg, heads a 10-member committee of city and Westmoreland County officials and citizens tasked with finding a new spot for the statue. The Westmoreland Veterans Memorial Preservation Committee is seeking to raise at least $56,000 for the effort.

Expansion of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art required that the memorial, located outside the museum since 1959, be moved.

"No one knows who owns the statue now," Mr. DeRose said.

When the monument was erected in 1925, it was placed near what was then the Greensburg City Hall on North Main Street. The memorial, which originally was surrounded by four cannons, was financed in part with contributions from veterans who served in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I, then known as "The Great War."

In 1949, city offices were relocated about five blocks south on Main Street, but the soldier, standing on a stone column, remained behind.

Ten years later, the statue and column were moved a few feet but remained in front of what had become the art museum. The statue and column were taken down earlier this year and stored by Greensburg-based Raimondo Inc. Raimondo, a family-owned business, has specialized in masonry restoration and preservation since 1903.

"We determined that the most logical place to move the monument was to the courthouse plaza," Mr. DeRose said.

Plans call for the bronze statue to be restored and the memorial to be re-erected facing Main Street next to the old county courthouse.

The memorial preservation committee has raised about $36,000 toward the project and has spent about $25,000 on disassembling and cleaning, Mr. DeRose said. He estimated another $20,000 will be needed to complete the project.

Tentative plans call for placing the statue temporarily inside the courthouse with a large covered cauldron next to it so that passers-by could make donations toward the project.

Mr. DeRose is a past chairman of the Westmoreland County Historical Society with a long-standing interest in local history.

"I have veterans in my family, and I want to make sure this project is done right," he said.

Len Barcousky: or 724-772-0184. First Published November 7, 2013 12:00 AM

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