The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Snyder County

July 2, 2014

Masons unearth veterans' markers in Shamokin Dam cemetery

SHAMOKIN DAM — They’re flat, metallic and about as big as a saucer. They are the medallions placed at graves of service members and veterans, indicating participation in a war, and for the most part at Orchard Hills Cemetery and Memorial Park, there is little indication they exist.

That’s because the medallions — some issued for those who lost their lives in World Wars I and II — were placed at the Shamokin Dam cemetery so long ago, grass and dirt have taken over and buried the markers, some of which are the only indication a veteran rests in that grave.

And underground they would have stayed — until members of Lafayette Lodge No. 194, F&AM Masonic Lodge in Selinsgrove, came along.

They needed a project, said Ron Hoover, of Port Trevorton. They were directed by the grand lodge in Philadelphia to get involved in community service. The group had helped before with a cemetery project in Selinsgrove, and a member of the Flanders family, which has a plot at Orchard Hills, contacted Hoover.

“A descendent called about it,” Hoover said of the grave of William Flanders. “He wanted to know why there was no flag there.”

Like many veterans’ graves, Flanders’ plot had no indication a World War II vet was buried there, except for the medallion that was overgrown. This is a problem with many veterans’ graves at Orchard Hills, Hoover said. Many also have government-issued stone gravemarkers that have become overgrown.

So starting last week, lodge members have combed the cemetery, looking for clues of veterans’ graves. On Tuesday, five members braved the heat, going from grave by grave in their quest for the medallions.

They operated like a well-tuned band: there was Glen Bickhart of Selinsgrove on the metal detector, sensing out the plaques. He was accompanied by Hoover on the pick, doing the digging, and Bill Carnall of Mount Pleasant Mills whacking the weeds. Fritz Frost of Selinsgrove, on broom, swept away the dirt while Paul Grimes of Selinsgrove unplugged the “flag post hole” with a battery-operated drill before planting a new, small flag.

This process is efficient, Bickhart said. The men did the first two sections without the metal detector when he realized how much it would help.

And help it has; since the project started about a week ago, Hoover said they’ve unearthed medallions and found graves of about 60 veterans whose service otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

Among them are Curtis Weaver, 1928 to 1964, an airman first class with the Navy, 1941-45; Mark Gariner, 1907 to 1972, who also served in the Navy in that war; of Darrell Reed, 1928 to 1988, the medallion the only indicator of his World War II service.

“We’ve asked for years for this kind of help,” said Cindy Romig, owner of the 54-acre Orchard Hills Cemetery, which is more than 100 years old. No veterans were putting out flags there, she said, so she and her family did it themselves. Hoover got wind of this, she said, and the lodge took on the project. Thirty-five of the 54 acres are burial grounds, Romig said, and the men plan to check every grave there.

The project now has become a mission, clearly; four of the five men at Orchard Hills Tuesday are veterans, and honoring service of those long passed is important.

“We’re veterans,” Hoover said. “We know what it’s about.”

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