Schneider, Wilson sworn in as Eagle Scouts

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Troop Leader Doug Watson accepts the pledge from Jimmy Schneider and Austin Wilson during a ceremony on March 27 in which they were sworn in as Eagle Scouts.

The eagle - noted as man's connection to the Divine because it flies higher than any other bird - also is noted as the symbolism of freedom and the courage to move forward as well as honesty and truth.

And the eagle is flying high in Laurel County, with two young men recently achieving the Eagle Scout rank - the highest honor given in the Boy Scouts of America organization.

In a ceremony held last month, Jimmy Schneider and Austin Wilson were both recognized for their individual service projects, both of which assisted local veterans.

Schneider completed his project last year and received his Eagle Scout at the end of summer. Schneider's project involved locating veterans' graves in Locust Grove Cemetery, whose sprawling acres are the final resting place of hundreds of veterans, some dating back to the War of 1812. It is believed that this cemetery has one of the largest population of deceased veterans in the region.

Schneider said he first visited Locust Grove Cemetery with his grandfather, Charles Hayes, who is a member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization in Keavy. Schneider assisted DAV members in placing flags on veterans' graves on Memorial Day weekend. The task was tedious and trying - many markers were covered with sod. Schneider used to assist in locating more veterans buried there, and identified 65 more graves of veterans.

Schneider has participated in the Boy Scouts for over 10 years, beginning as a Cub Scout and moving up over the years. Now a member of Troop 572, he and his fellow scouts have assisted with placing flags on veterans' graves and last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the usual presentation by the JROTC on the Sunday memorial service, Troop 572 members filled in to present and retire the colors.

Schneider has been a driving force in helping DAV members with placing flags at Locust Grove Cemetery every year. Keith Karr, Keavy Chapter Commander, commended Schneider's efforts.

"We appreciate your willingness to do this project," Karr said. "This will make it easier for others to place flags on Memorial Day in years to come."

Schneider said he is proud of his efforts to assist veteran organizations in honoring those who have passed on.

"My grandpa says that serving in the military was a privilege. I believe honoring veterans on Memorial Day is a privilege. It's not just honoring the veterans who have passed - it is also honoring the families they left behind," he said.

Birchell Baker, past commander of the DAV, said, "Laurel County can still be proud of its young people. Not only did (Schneider) locate all the graves we were aware of, he located 65 veterans' graves that we were not aware were there. Thanks to Jimmy, the future Memorial Day tasks of the Keavy DAV Chapter veterans and the Boy Scouts who help us will be much easier."

Austin Wilson, a senior at South Laurel High School, was also named as an Eagle Scout. Wilson's project was to construct a fire pit at the DAV center in London.

"It's multi-purpose," he explained. "I wanted the veterans to have a place where they could sit and relax and talk outside. And since we use the DAV as a place to retire the flag, I thought that would be a good use for the fire pit."

So he and his grandfather sat down and drew up plans for the fire pit. After several months, their plans were completed - and approved - for construction to begin. Wilson said the first step was to lay concrete for the base, then construct layers of brick in circular shape.

"Then we put a barrel in there, so when it needs to be emptied and cleaned, all you have to do is pull out the barrel, clean it and put it back in," he said.

Properly retiring an American flag is a procedural ceremony that occurs when a flag is deemed "no longer a fitting emblem for display" - and preferably by burning it. The flag has steps to fold it properly, and once done, is placed over a bonfire to burn.

Wilson said he has many family members who served their country in the military and has great respect for veterans.

"The veterans liked the idea of a place where they could relax and talk and they liked the idea of a permanent fire pit out there," he said. "It took a couple of days to build - there were 15 or 20 people helping, and it turned out pretty good. The veterans who have talked to me said they liked it."

As he approaches the final days of his high school years, Wilson is considering going into the military or becoming a police officer. He's drawn toward joining the Marines if the military choice wins out, although he has not made any commitment.

What he is committed to, however, is the respect he feels toward American veterans.

"We should do all we can for our veterans, because they deserve it," he said.

Fewer than 3% of Boy Scouts, nationwide, ever gain the rank of Eagle Scout.

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