The Fayette County Veterans Affairs office is seeking volunteers to place grave markers and flags on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day after their standard efforts were thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“All of these men and women that have been laid to rest gave me the opportunity to serve. The very least we can do is see to it that their legacy is honored,” said Veterans Affairs Director Brian Bensen. “They have surviving families that deserve that, too. They all need to know how much we appreciate their service.”
Thirty-two veterans organizations throughout the county handle the flag and grave marker placements. Many of those are struggling to find volunteers amid the pandemic. Uniontown’s Rolling Thunder typically secures volunteers from local Boy Scout troops, Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) and other local youth, but they are unable to do so this year. The organizations are seeking the help of the public to place 30,240 flags and 1,825 grave markers at 192 cemeteries in Fayette County. The flags are being placed this week in advance of Memorial Day to celebrate Military Appreciation Month in May.
Gathering the flags and markers was also a challenge because many warehouses that distribute the flags were shut down at the start of the pandemic, Bensen said. His quest for flags led him to Georgia. He secured grave markers in Pennsylvania before many of the distribution facilities were closed.
“A lot of counties were left high and dry, but I scrambled and found a warehouse in Georgia and got them here,” he said. “I was able to get the markers in Pennsylvania before the virus shut us down, too.”
Benson said Veteran Service Officer Glen Siple worked with him in securing the flags and markers, and in continuing their services to veterans throughout the pandemic.
“We haven’t missed a day of work and, even though our doors were closed to the public, our phones were on and we were still giving people hope and help,” he said. “His 10 years of experience in our office was instrumental in pulling off the flags and markers this year. I could not do any of this without him.”
Among their services to veterans was a drive-thru event for combat veterans who needed support. More than 40 cars of participants visited the stations, which included counselors from Pittsburgh and medical staff from the Uniontown VA clinic.
“Their last stop was me. We identified any veterans that were in trouble in any way due to the pandemic and helped them immediately,” Bensen said. “Everyone wore masks and it was a completely socially-distanced event. It was awesome.”
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Rolling Thunder representative Bernie Caffery at 724-366-3546.