Boy Scouts place American flags at veterans graves at St. Bonaventure Cemetery

Boy Scout D.J. Ruszokowski of Troop 621 in Olean places an American flag at the grave of a veteran in St. Bonaventure Cemetery on Thursday.

ALLEGANY — A small number of Boy Scouts from Olean Troop 621 spread out in St. Bonaventure Cemetery Thursday with flags for veterans graves.

Most of the scouts were wearing face masks or practicing social distance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The adults, including Scoutmaster Jeff Hellier and his wife, Shelly, the assistant scoutmaster, were all wearing masks when in close proximity to others.

The scouts and adults met at the cemetery about 4 p.m. to place more than 1,900 American flags. Troop members on Tuesday placed flags in Pleasant Valley Cemetery in the town of Olean.

Initially, there was some concern for getting scouts together due to COVID-19 concerns. Some parents chose not to participate this year due to those concerns, Shelly said.

Jeff Hellier said the Boy Scouts of America did not prohibit scouts from participating in the traditional pre-Memorial Day task of placing flags in cemeteries.

“It was not a national directive,” he said.

The troop’s sponsoring group, in this case the Olean American Legion, oversees the placing of the flags, Hellier said. The U.S. Council of Veterans Affairs has the final say.

The troop members and adults didn’t have a map to follow, so they were checking each grave for link to the military.

“This is a community service,” Hellier said. “It shows respect for the fallen soldiers.” The troop has been doing it for at least the past two decades.

One Troop 621 scout, Nathan Kwiatkowski, is working on his Eagle project, which is mapping all the veterans’ graves in St. Bonaventure Cemetery. When it’s done, it will make it easier for scouts to find the veterans graves in the future.

The Helliers have contacted all scouts in the troop about a request the Boy Scouts of America to participate in a Memorial Day activity. Parades and Memorial Day services have been canceled.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has canceled Memorial Day services of more than 10 people and suggested automobile parades instead.

Shelly said scouts are being asked to put on their uniform and salute the flag at 3 p.m. on Monday. They have also been asked to have someone take a photograph that will be forwarded to the regional council.

One minute later, at 3:01 p.m., scouts who can play “Taps” are encouraged to do so, Shelly added. Scouts will email her their photos to forward to the Highlands Boy Scout Council.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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