McCrabb: Future Marine connects with fallen veterans in Hamilton cemetery project

HAMILTON — Xander Roberts wasn’t raised in a military home surrounded by a father and uncles who frequently told war stories around the kitchen table. Only his great-grandfather served.

But Roberts has “service” in his blood, he says. He has always wanted to be a police officer, firefighter or a member of the military. He plans to enlist in the Marine Corps after graduating in 2021 from Hamilton High School.

The decision about his future was clear as Roberts, 17, stood behind a podium last week and talked about his Eagle Scout project called “Flags for the Fallen." He wanted to work on a veterans memorial, and after visiting the G.A.R. Veterans Memorial Site at Greenwood Cemetery and seeing how the concrete was chipped and in need of a fresh coat of paint, he put his plan in place.

He drew a rendering of how he envisioned the memorial and presented it to Dan Peters, general manager of the cemetery. The largest part of the plan included installing six flag poles to hold an American flag and flags for the five branches of the military.

Peters called local companies and was told the poles and flags would cost between $7,000 and $8,000. He figured that estimate would end Roberts' Eagle project aspirations.

Then he called Roberts.

“He never flinched,” Peters said. “I knew the project was going to get done."

That was in March, the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. After months of raising more than $11,000, installing the flag poles, repairing and painting the concrete stage and the concrete cannons and cannon balls, mulching the flower beds and planting shrubs, the memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day.

“We couldn’t be more thankful,” Peters said. “He’s a remarkable young man.”

The money was raised through a Facebook post and a GoFundMe account. Support included $1,000 from the Hamilton Community Foundation, he said.

Roberts said he was assisted by family, friends and other members of Troop 956.

“It’s a community project,” he said.

Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller attended the dedication and Roberts' Eagle Scout ceremony last week. He said Roberts is “a fine example” of a Hamilton High student.

“You’re already a leader,” Moeller told Roberts.

Moeller said that Fred Brown, a Vietnam hero who was mortally wounded during a firefight while saving fellow soldiers, is buried behind where Roberts stood during the ceremony.

The upgrades to the memorial “added to this sacred ground,” Moeller said.

Doug Trimmer, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 956, is also Roberts' grandfather. They have been active in Scouting for nearly 12 years.

He sounded like a Scoutmaster and a proud grandpa.

“He has such a big heart for our country," Trimmer said.

Trimmer searched his cell phone for a picture of Roberts wearing a red, white and blue tie.

“He’s like Mr. USA," Trimmer said. "I don’t know how else to say it.”

Roberts' mother, Jeannie Sturgill, walked around the memorial as her son continued receiving congratulations from veterans. She was “blown away” by her son’s Eagle project.

“He was very passionate about it,” she said. “He wanted to leave a mark. It’s him. It’s who he is.”

Then she was asked about what her son wants to be. Mothers of Marines have sleepless nights.

“I will have some mommy moments and he will have to deal with it,” she said.

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