Baldwin Scout constructs Civil War memorial at Birmingham Cemetery
Thomas Rechtorik always has had a great respect for those serving in the military.
When it came time for the Baldwin High School senior to complete his Eagle Award for the Boy Scouts of America, Thomas, 18, of Baldwin Borough, wanted to give back to those who served this country.
With the help of the community, fellow Boy Scouts and lots of donations, Thomas spent nearly a year constructing a Civil War memorial at Birmingham Cemetery in Carrick.
“I just hope it’s a reminder to show where our country has been and some of the history behind it and to not forget about this major war of the United States and the people that were in it and how that impacted the lives of everybody today,” said Thomas, a member of Troop 338, which meets at North Zion Church in Baldwin Borough. Thomas has been a Scout since he was in first grade.
Finding a place to build a memorial proved to be the first challenge of Thomas’ project.
He quickly realized it was going to take patience and persistence, he said, as he called place after place trying to find somewhere with a need.
In June 2017, Thomas got the OK to build a Civil War memorial at Birmingham Cemetery off Brownsville Road. The owner was excited about the idea, Thomas said, because some of the graves of veterans at the cemetery are deteriorating because of the stone used years ago.
After getting approval for the project from the Boy Scouts, Thomas had to raise money. He brought in nearly $1,500 through Sarris Candy and hoagie sales and got donations from businesses. Everything — from the concrete to cement pad finishing work to the bronze plaque, granite, rose bushes and perennials — was donated from businesses across the area.
“I was just surprised at how many people were willing to donate or donate their time or just help out in general,” Thomas said.
The memorial includes a 12-by-12-foot cement pad, flagpole and large monument made of granite and bronze.
While Thomas laughs when he talks about trying to dig the site with a shovel, he credits most of the digging work to an employee of the cemetery who used a backhoe to clear the space.
Boy Scouts showed up to help spread the limestone, put up the flagpole and landscape the site.
In all, 31 people helped construct the memorial. They spent more than 266 hours on the project.
“It was everybody, past Eagle Scouts, family members,” Thomas said.
The memorial was finished at the end of May.
Thomas was approved for his Eagle Award in June and was expected to receive the award on Oct. 28 at a court of honor ceremony.
“It was a very long process and there were many steps along the way, but everything all came together and the memorial is exactly what Thomas envisioned for his project,” mom Debbie said. “The memorial is such a wonderful way to honor not only those who served in the Civil War, but those men and women who have served our country in the past and those who continue to serve currently. I couldn’t be more proud of Thomas for this wonderful memorial and also on him becoming an Eagle Scout.”
The project taught Thomas a lot of life lessons, he said.
“Just dealing with people in general, how to manage time, money,” he said. “And leading — that’s what the main focal point of the project is supposed to be. To show that you can lead people to do something as great as this.”
Birmingham Cemetery often draws people from the neighborhood who are walking their dogs or enjoying the nice weather.
Thomas said he hopes people will see the memorial and develop a “greater respect towards the nation,” particularly as political tensions continue to run high across the country.
“I hope it shows there’s always a light and people come together even now to help with the project,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.