RIMERSBURG — In a typical year, local sixth grade students make quick work of placing nearly 900 flags on the graves of veterans’ in the massive Rimersburg Cemetery in southern Clarion County.
The effort to assist the American Legion and VFW groups in Rimersburg is turned into a lesson for the students as they learn about their community’s heroes and the various eras of military service.
This year, however, amid the battle against coronavirus, veterans in the Rimersburg area were not only unsure who would help with placing the flags, but where the flags themselves would come from.
The flags for all Clarion County cemeteries usually come from the only Pennsylvania-based manufacturer, FlagZone of Montgomery County. Because it was deemed a non-essential business, FlagZone was shut down with Clarion County’s order of flags sitting in the warehouse ready to ship.
“They had shipments ready, and mine was one of them,” Clarion County Veterans Affairs Director Judy Zerbe said. While many counties are able to take their flag orders earlier, Zerbe said Clarion County waits because it has no place to store the thousands of flags before they are distributed to the veterans groups and individual volunteers who place them at cemeteries across the county prior to Memorial Day.
With the flags unable to be shipped, both Clarion County and Rimersburg veterans opted to find another vendor. Zerbe said the county was able to order flags from an Illinois manufacturer, but had told the veterans they could not guarantee they would arrive in time for the holiday. Rimersburg veterans moved ahead on their own, finding a vendor to purchase flags for the large Rimersburg Cemetery, as well as six smaller cemeteries in the area.
Union Elementary teacher Rachel Kindel, who typically arranged for the sixth-graders to help place the flags, assembled a team of about a dozen teachers to help this year. But when they showed up at the cemetery Thursday morning to help the veterans, they also found a number of other community members there eager to help out.
The cemetery is also where the Rimersburg community’s annual Memorial Day service is held each May, attracting crowds upwards of 500 people or more each year. This year, though, Kindel said it would be very strange for there not to be a program held at the site.
But despite the restrictions, Kindel said the virus could not take away the community’s spirit and ideals.
“It can’t quiet our patriotism,” she said. “We are not going to forget the sacrifices they made.”
Kindel asked those gathered Thursday to place the flags in the manner in which are done at Arlington National Cemetery, by approaching the grave, saying the veteran’s name aloud, and then placing the flag in the holder. She also pointed out the grave of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Donald R. Lobaugh.
As the teachers and community members prepared to place the flags, the local veterans were busy unpacking each flag, which were individually wrapped, unlike in most years.
For the rest of the cemeteries in the county, Zerbe said the county’s order from Illinois arrived Thursday afternoon. She said she would sort them out on Friday, and notify the volunteers over the weekend that they could come pick up their flags.
She noted that because they came from a different manufacturer, this year’s flags are not 12 inches by 18 inches as usual, but 8 inches by 12 inches, and the flag staffs are also a different size, which may necessitate placing them into the ground by the graves, rather than in the holders.
“It’s better to have something than to have nothing,” Zerbe said, noting that she received permission from the county commissioners to accept the order of flags from FlagZone when they are ready to ship, so that the county will have flags on hand for next year in case there are distribution problems then as well.
Back in Rimersburg, the veterans there said that while their annual parade and services for Memorial Day would be called off, they still planned to salute the veterans who have been laid to rest by holding their annual fire watch from Saturday evening to Monday morning, followed by a raising of the flag and rifle salute in Rimersburg’s Veterans Memorial Park.
DUBOIS — One of DuBois American Legion’s oldest members still has a sharp mind and plenty of stories to share about his time serving during World War II.
Emory Preston Miller, 95, of Home Camp, was only ever aboard one ship in his time with the U.S. Navy. He was the youngest of six boys, four of which had been taken into the service and his oldest brother was working on the defense plan.
“As soon as I turned 17 I enlisted in the Navy and went to Newport, Rhode Island, for boot camp,” Miller said.
He was assigned to the USS Whitehurst DE 634, a boat sent into commission in November 1943. This ship was targeted by a suicide bomber attack on April 12, 1945, that killed 42 men.
“My battle station was at the back end of the ship, and the gunner was from Reading, Pennsylvania, Bill Eisenhower. An airplane hit our bridge and went through a wheel house. He was carrying a bomb, and exited the starbird side. We caught on fire, and we lost 42 men that day. I’m sitting here and I can see it just as plain as I can see Orner’s Farm. I could see it coming and I got Eisenhower’s attention and he swung his gun around,” Miller said.
He recalled the gunner firing at the plane. Eisenhower managed to cut the wing off, bringing the it down in the water about 20 feet from the ship, according to Miller.
“Emory Miller and William Eisenhower should have been decorated for their work after the suicide bomber struck. While others were distracted by the explosion and fire on the bridge, Miller was still alert to the possibility of attack by another Kamikaze. That alertness paid off when he spotted the fourth Val Dive Bomber lined up and attacking from the stern. Eisenhower’s immediate reaction to Miller’s warning, and his accuracy with the 20mm gun almost certainly saved many more lives,” said Max Crow, a historian and webmaster of the USS Whitehurst DE-634 Association.
When Miller came home, he married his wife and was with her for 60 years before she died. He has three grandchildren and his second great-grand child was just born last June.
“I’ve had such a great life and I’ve been so blessed,” Miller said.
MORRISDALE — Last week, Jason and Janelle Bainey were extremely thankful for their son, Landon, who is now 15 years old. On May 7, 2005, Landon – who was just 27 days old at the time – aspirated and went into cardiac arrest.
Jason said they were at his sister Heather’s college graduation in Bethany, West Virginia, as well as to see her play softball after the ceremony.
“We went to get into the car and he was totally blue,” Jason said. “My wife and I both started freaking out and I grabbed him and ran to the top of the hill to the paramedics.”
Jason said at the time he had “totally aspirated ... and they gave him mouth to mouth on scene.
“They got him in the ambulance and they rushed him the whole way to Wheeling Hospital,” Jason said. “When we got there, they rushed him and he was flatlined. They were working on CPR ... and they said they had to Lifeflight him.”
The worst feeling a parent can have is something happening to their child, and Jason said those at the hospital gave them the unfortunate news to “expect the worst.”
Landon was then flown to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh as Jason and Janelle had to drive. Doctors later told them Landon was brought back to life three times in flight.
“When we got there, he was in really bad shape,” Jason said. “They didn’t expect him to make it through the night. The first 72 to 80 hours, he was on 100 percent oxygen.”
Jason said they also couldn’t predict that if Landon did recover, if there would be any effects such as brain damage.
However, on the fourth day, Jason said Landon came around in the middle of the night and actually ripped a tube from his throat.
“About the fifth day is when he finally showed some recovery,” Jason said. “They started weening him off his oxygen a little bit at a time.”
On the 10th day, Jason said Landon was completely recovered, stating at the time, doctors weren’t exactly sure what happened to cause the near-fatal situation. Because of this, whenever Landon was sent home, the hospital sent a sleep apnea machine, heart machines, etc. to figure out why it happened.
“We’ve been really lucky he’s never had any signs of any (problems since),” Jason said.
Later on, Jason said they figured it was something like that of which when an adult takes a drink and it causes them to cough. Jason said when Landon was fed, it went straight into his lungs and caused him to aspirate him immediately.
“It was insane,” Jason said of the day.
Jason said they were very lucky that Landon’s issue took place while they were at an event. Police even escorted them to Wheeling Hospital.
Today, Landon is doing when well and has no side effects. He’s in the eighth grade, is homeschooled through Liberty University Christian Academy, and has been doing quite well with wrestling and other sports.
The year after it happened, Jason said they went back down to visit the people at Wheeling Hospital and those involved with saving Landon. Jason and Janelle continue to be grateful to this day.
“We still send a card down every year on the anniversary,” Jason said.