Two Herkimer cemeteries are now filled with 2,000 American flags

An Ilion man leads what now has become an annual tradition at two cemeteries in Herkimer to honor veterans the weekend before Memorial Day.

Posted: May 19, 2018 1:47 PM
Updated: May 19, 2018 10:47 PM

Herkimer, N.Y. - About three dozen people could be seen scatterered throughout two adjacent cemeteries along W. German St. in Herkimer on Saturday. They were all looking for the gravesites of veterans to honor the person behind each stone by planting an American flag by their memorial.

The flag planting effort was led once again by U.S. Army Veteran Ronald Schoonmaker of Ilion.

Schoonmaker began the flag planting on the weekend before Memorial Day five years ago after a Pre-Memorial Day visit to the gravesites of his father and grandfather in Oak Hill Cemetary where he noticed there were very few flags on veterans' graves. He says that's when he decided to take on a project which has continued each of the past five years, "Some of the stones that you walk through you'll see they have died in action. Well what greater sacrifice can anybody make for their country."

Schoonmaker says the sacrifice of a little time in rainy and chilly conditions is the least he and others can do to pay tribute to the men and women who are responsible for all of us living in a free society, "Between the two cemeteries there are about 1200 veterans here in Oak Hill, and there's about 800 over in the Cavalry side. That's a lot of veterans."

Among the three dozen people, included a group of 10 JROTC members from Utica, including Vincent DeStefano, a junior at Notre Dame High School in Utica. DeStefano says it's his honor to be able to honor the men and women who have made this country what it is, and he plans to follow in their footsteps and serve his country in the United States Navy.

DeStefano says he wants to serve for one main reason, "To give back."

The flags planted on Saturday will remain throughout the year until fall when they will be take down before winter.

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