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Boy Scout overcomes obstacles in journey to honor veterans
When Max Herrington chose his Eagle Scout project last fall, he had no idea what he was getting himself into.
Herrington, a high school junior who has been involved in Vashon’s Boy Scout Troop 294 since he was in kindergarten, learned that some veterans at the Vashon Cemetery were buried in unmarked graves. The issue struck him, and he decided to take on the task as the project required for him to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve.
“It’s sad to know (some veterans) have no recognition at all in the cemetery,” he said. “It’s a sad story, so I decided that it should be fixed.”
Last week, Herrington, with the help of some fellow Boy Scouts, broke ground at the cemetery and installed two government-issued headstones for World War I and World War II veterans whose graves were previously unmarked.
The moment was bittersweet for Herrington, who was pleased to see the veterans finally recognized at the cemetery but also knew his task was far from complete.
Ideally, Herrington would have laid 10 gravestones that day, one at each of the unmarked graves he discovered. However, issues of paperwork, record keeping and government requirements for headstones prevented Herrington from procuring the veterans’ markers and sent him on a very different path than he had previously set out on.
“This is where it would have ended if everything had gone according to plan. … It was a good moment but a little bit of a letdown,” he said.
Herrington’s efforts began last fall when, with help from cemetery director Lisa Devereau, he combed the Vashon Cemetery, comparing headstones with the cemetery’s burial records, and discovered that 10 veterans’ graves lacked markers of any kind.
Surprisingly, eight of those men in unmarked graves were Civil War veterans who moved to the Northwest later in life and were buried on Vashon, Herrington said.
Getting headstones for the World War I and World War II veterans wasn’t too difficult, Herrington said, as Jim Trimbo, director of the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, helped him find the documents needed to prove the men served and procure free headstones from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It’s something near and dear to my heart what Max is doing” said Trimbo, who is a Vietnam War veteran himself. “We dug up as much info as we could for him.”
Finding similar records for the Civil War veterans wasn’t as easy.
“Before World War II, the whole cataloging system of service is really outdated, and it’s really inaccessible for someone of my age,” Herrington said.
Herrington plowed forward, though, doing hours of research online, off-Island and at the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association. In some cases, he found photos of the men and information about them, but no documents sufficient to prove that they fought in the war.
Ultimately, an official at the Department of Veterans Affairs told Herrington that tracking down the required paperwork would be time-consuming and maybe impossible. He recommended Herrington give up on the idea.
“The amount of work and the amount of money to get the markerswould have been way beyond the means of most people and especially an Eagle Scout,” Herrington said.
Discouraged only temporarily, Herrington is now raising money to purchase a four-foot granite pillar that would serve as a memorial for the eight Civil War veterans. Once completed, it would be engraved with the names of all eight men and placed in the veterans’ section of the Vashon Cemetery.
Chuck Pardee, the troop’s assistant scoutmaster, commended Herrington, saying the high schooler has already gone above and beyond what is required of an Eagle Scout project.
“He has spent lot of time and effort doing research on his own. ... It’s been more than the average time committed to an Eagle project,” Pardee said.
Herrington, who hadn’t anticipated that his project would involve fundraising, has already raised about $500 of the $1,800 required to purchase the monument and hopes to raise the rest by April so that the monument can be erected by Memorial Day.
Phil Volker, who organizes a Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery each year and is the chaplain at the American Legion’s Vashon post, is thrilled to see several of the approximately 500 veterans buried at the cemetery finally get the formal recognition they deserve.
The American Legion is one of a few Vashon organizations that has donated to the project so far.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Volker said. “An unmarked grave is kind of a sad note, especially for someone that sacrificed for their county. It’s a great project on his part to take up and be so tenacious.”