‘Honor them’: Volunteers place flags on vets’ graves as they learn their stories

By Geri Gibbons - For Times Leader
Tom Gilmore, 68, of West Pittston, helps replace old flags on veterans’ headstones at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Commander of the West Pittston American Legion Ron Gitkos hands out flags to volunteers to put on headstones at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Nathan Ambrosino, 13, of West Pittston, helps place flags on veterans’ graves at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday ahead of the Memorial Day holiday. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Celeste Fediw, 4, of Pittston, places a flag on a veteran’s headstone at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday. Almost 100 volunteers turned out to decorate veterans’ gravesites with flags for the Memorial Day holiday. - - Sean McKeag | Times Leader

WEST PITTSTON — Nearly 100 people made their way though three West Pittston cemeteries Saturday morning, placing over 500 flags on the graves of military veterans as part of Memorial Day weekend commemorations.

To organizer Ron Gitkos, a Vietnam veteran and commander of the West Pittston American Legion, the annual event provides an opportunity to honor veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Gitkos is also hoping to inspire future generations to keep such traditions alive.

“There are fewer and fewer veterans available to participate in these kind of ceremonies each year,” he said. “So we’re calling upon members of the community to come out.”

As the event opened at the West Pittston cemetery, Gitkos reminded participants that each gravesite told a story about the veteran for whom the flag was placed.

He encouraged those with youngsters to take time to glean those stories from information on the grave markers and stones — how long the soldiers lived, which war they fought in, and what year they died.

In that spirit, Gitkos lead his goddaughter, Celeste Fediw, 4, through the cemetery in search of older gravestones, not only telling her story after story, but emphasizing the importance of reverence for those in military service.

Celeste’s mother, Danielle Fediw, of Duryea, said the family has participated in the event throughout its 18-year history. But during the last 10 years, it has taken on added significance.

“My brother, First Lieutenant Jeffrey Deprimo, lost his life in 2008 in Afghanistan,” she said.

Deprimo, who was 35 at the time of his death and had volunteered to serve in a dangerous area, served with the 109th Infantry and was the commander of a lead convoy vehicle when it came under attack.

“It’s important for people to realize the great sacrifice these soldiers have made for their country,” said Fediw.

‘Learn from them’

Tiffany Callaio, of the Kiwanis Club, said over 20 members of the organization helped place flags Saturday.

“We’re mainly focused on children, but we’re also about supporting the community,” she said. “The call went out for manpower and we’re here. We’ve been doing it for about four years.”

Many of the veterans participating were also eager to reminisce about their military service and sadly recall friends who didn’t make it home.

Russ Endres, West Pittston, served in the Navy from 1965 through 1969, spending most of that time on the U.S. Independence.

“We made it back. Some of them didn’t,” he said. “I can’t tell you how important it is for me to be here today to honor them.”

Throughout the event, Gitkos’ respect for his country and the American flag were evident.

As old flags were being removed from gravesites and new ones placed, he reminded participants, “Don’t let any of the flags touch the ground. And don’t forget, each marker tells a story. Learn from them.”

Tom Gilmore, 68, of West Pittston, helps replace old flags on veterans’ headstones at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Flags2.jpgTom Gilmore, 68, of West Pittston, helps replace old flags on veterans’ headstones at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

Commander of the West Pittston American Legion Ron Gitkos hands out flags to volunteers to put on headstones at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Flags4.jpgCommander of the West Pittston American Legion Ron Gitkos hands out flags to volunteers to put on headstones at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

Nathan Ambrosino, 13, of West Pittston, helps place flags on veterans’ graves at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Flags5.jpgNathan Ambrosino, 13, of West Pittston, helps place flags on veterans’ graves at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday ahead of the Memorial Day holiday. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

Celeste Fediw, 4, of Pittston, places a flag on a veteran’s headstone at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday. Almost 100 volunteers turned out to decorate veterans’ gravesites with flags for the Memorial Day holiday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Flags1.jpgCeleste Fediw, 4, of Pittston, places a flag on a veteran’s headstone at the West Pittston Cemetery on Saturday. Almost 100 volunteers turned out to decorate veterans’ gravesites with flags for the Memorial Day holiday. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

By Geri Gibbons

For Times Leader