Girl Scout honors veterans with respectful project

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By Nicole Ray

My name is Nicole Ray and I have been a Girl Scout since kindergarten and I am now a senior in high school. I have taken advantage of all the Girl Scouts has to offer and I have received my Bronze and Silver medals and I am currently finishing up with my Gold Award. This is the highest award a Girl Scout can receive.

I decided to do my project on something I felt was very important to me and my uncle, who is a Vietnam veteran. I named my project “Never Forget – Honoring Our Veterans.”

The way I became involved with this project is that for many years my uncle would place an American flag on the graves of all veterans just before Memorial Day. Then when he got sick and was not able to place the flags, as a family we all decided to do it for him. That was eight years ago and every year since then we have gone to St. Rose cemetery and placed the flags on the veterans’ graves to honor each and every one of them for their service to our country.

As time went on, the oldest part of the cemetery was getting harder and harder to read the names and to be able to see if the people buried there were veterans, so my uncle approached a couple of Boy Scout troops and asked if they would be able to do something in the section and when he got no response, I decided this would be a great project for me to achieve my Gold Award.

At first I was hoping I could have the headstones fixed and re-etched, but after several phone calls and letters I found out that could not be done without exhausting all avenues of trying to locate family members and it would be extremely costly to undertake that, so I came up with the next best thing which is the bronze grave markers that would hold the flag each year and this goal was more realistic.

With the help of Girl Scouts, I was able to raise money by selling cookies and not taking my prize incentives, and also with the help of my uncle we reached out to the veterans organizations and I met with them to discuss my project and they were able to help me reach my goal of $5,000 to be able to purchase the grave markers.

I also reached out to some local business and Ray Catena car dealerships were able to give me the balance I needed to reach my goal. While I was raising the money for my goal, I was also doing my research on the time periods of the different wars and if the people buried in the oldest section of the cemetery could have been in any of the wars.

I also had to try and make out the names that were on the gravestones and from there I would compare the names to several different lists. One was the list my uncle gave me with just the names of the veterans who are buried here, with the war they fought in.

The other thing I used is a book that was published listing the people who were buried in the cemetery and I compared that list with all the people in this section to see if the cause of death was war.

The most interesting thing was that in this section, I was able to find a Medal of Honor recipient from the Civil War buried here and was able to give him a special marker.

I only planned on placing the markers in the oldest section, but I have additional markers left over and I will be placing the additional markers in the next oldest section.

I have had a lot of people help me achieve this goal by helping with the research and fundraising, to putting the markers together and sealing them. We also dug holes and were able to use concrete to place the markers in the ground so they will last.

My final part to this project will be the weekend before Veterans Day, I will be placing flags into the new bronze markers I installed in the cemetery.

This has been a project that is very important to me because our veterans give up a lot for our country and even though this project took me more than 12 months to complete, it is nothing compared to what they have given up. I will “Never Forget – Honoring Our Veterans.”

Nicole Ray is a resident of Freehold Borough and a student at Freehold High School.