NANTICOKE — Boy Scouts Troop 418 in Nanticoke halted all activities months ago due to the coronavirus shutdown, but with Memorial Day approaching there was one duty they could not neglect: replacing and retiring flags at veterans’ graves around the city.
Wearing masks while social distancing, the Scouts last week resumed their civic service by trekking through cemeteries to replace nearly 4,000 American flags.
“The boys are honoring our veterans — from the Spanish-American War to the Iraq war and current conflicts around the world,” said Scoutmaster Matt Matyas. “Despite the fact we have COVID to deal with, we’re trying to teach these boys that these men and women went through a lot and some paid the ultimate sacrifice for us.”
Matyas said all Scouting activity has stopped due to the coronavirus lockdown, including important Eagle Scout projects.
But replacing flags prior to Memorial Day is one of the Scouts’ mandatory projects and continued to be necessary despite the coronavirus shutdown, Matyas said.
All 21 Scouts in Troop 418 participated in last week’s flag-replacing project.
“This is the most important thing we do all year,” Matyas said.
Nationwide, the Veterans Administration this year prohibited the Boy Scouts from replacing flags at national cemeteries because of the pandemic, instead relying on VA staff to perform the task.
Matyas said the regional chapter of the Boy Scouts allowed area troops to replace flags in local cemeteries, as long as they practiced social distancing.
Usually, the Nanticoke Scouts operate in a big group to replace the flags in a series of eight cemeteries off Washington Street in the city and the Holy Trinity Cemetery in Newport Twp.
This year, they were asked to bring family members along, so most Scouts performed the task with people who they live with, Matyas said.
Thomas Kane, representing the Nanticoke American Legion Post 350, which sponsors the Nanticoke Scouts, said there was some concern the Boy Scouts wouldn’t be able to replace the flags this year. But he wasn’t worried.
“We’re so glad the Boy Scouts are doing what they are doing,” Kane said. “I had people calling me, saying, ‘If the Boys Scouts can’t do it, I will.’ So they were going to get put up either way.”
One of the Scouts, Paul Cooper, 16, said he is always proud to replace the flags.
“It’s a great thing to do — get all the old flags out and put up new ones in remembrance for what they did for us and what they did for our county,” Cooper said.
Denise Williams of Wanamie accompanied her 11-year-old son, Brandon, on the mission.
“We have our masks. We are social distancing,” Williams said. “This is a good thing to do for the veterans. As you could see, the flags are in bad shape.”
After the Scouts collected all the old flags, they put them in a huge pile and performed a dignified retirement ceremony by lighting them on fire with the help of the Nanticoke Fire Department. The Scouts saluted as the pile burned.
As the pile smoldered, Matyas dismissed them and made a joke about finally seeing everyone for the first time in weeks, though everyone was wearing masks.