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Care of veterans' graves offers history lessons

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Monessen Middle School students (from left) Santino Lopez and Nick Baker, school guidance counselor Cathi Carpenter, and students Elijah Smith, Kathryn Dzurik and Destiny Habeck are pictured in Grandview Cemetery in Monessen, where they recently removed all of the American flags in a project for American Legion Post 28 and VFW Post 1190 in Monessen.

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During preparation for the American Legion Awards at the Monessen Middle School, school guidance counselor Cathi Carpenter and John Billy, American Legion Post 28 commander, discussed care for veterans' graves.

“He said, ‘The men in Legion do the flags, but it's getting harder and harder for them to do so,'” Carpenter recalled. “I said, ‘I will get the kids to do it.'” That's how a select group of eighth-grade students at Monessen Middle School began collecting American flags from veterans' graves last year.

In the second year of the program, students collected flags from veterans' grave sites. They collect the flags that were placed on the graves by members of American Legion Post 28 and VFW Post 1190 in Monessen.

To participate, the students need not be a member of any particular club. They are just asked to volunteer their time.

This year, eighth-grade students Santino Lopez, Nick Baker, Elijah Smith, Kathryn Dzurik and Destiny Habeck collected more than 1,200 flags at Grandview and St. Hyacinth cemeteries. The project lasted about two hours, Carpenter said.

“I feel it is a wonderful opportunity for the students to give something back to their community and they also get a first-hand look at the veterans who sacrificed for their freedoms and to learn a little something about the wars,” she said.

Carpenter said she explains to the students “this is what these people did; this is why you have freedom.”

“The students are very good about doing the work. These are all hard-working students,” she added.

Carpenter said cemetery personnel dispose of the collected flags. The flags go up for Memorial Day and stay up all summer and throughout September until the students take them down. They are removed so that the flags are not damaged by the weather or the winter.

“It becomes a history lesson for them,” Carpenter said. “They learn about the wars the veterans served in. It puts things in perspective for the kids. There's some World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans buried in each of those cemeteries.”

The students even discovered two Civil War graves for John Woleslagle and Michael Doney in an older section of Grandview Cemetery, Carpenter said.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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