Every year as Memorial Day approaches, the Boy Scouts of Troop 124 in Tinton Falls assist the local Jewish War Veterans (JWV) post in locating the burial sites of veterans at Jewish cemeteries in West Long Branch to honor them by placing American flags at their graves.
Thinking of that annual gesture of tribute to those who served their country, troop member Evan Kuo, 18, chose as his Eagle Scout project a plan to further that effort.
The senior at Communications High School in Wall first contacted JWV Jersey Shore Post 125, the group that Troop 124 assists in placing the flags every year. He told post member Monty Fisher, a U.S. Army veteran, who has been in charge of the flag placement at the cemeteries for about 10 years, that he had noticed that while there has been little trouble locating veterans’ graves at Congregation Brothers of Israel Cemetery — which had been mapped out — their searches at Monmouth Fields Jewish Cemetery have been disjointed. Lacking a map designating the veterans’ burial places, the volunteers were forced to roam around trying to locate their graves.
“When Evan approached me asking if he could develop a map for Monmouth Fields, I jumped at the chance,” said Fisher, a West Long Branch resident. “We met several times as his project progressed until he had the finished product.”
Fisher said there are about 200 vets buried in the two cemeteries, spanning multiple wars. Monmouth Fields has the grave of a Civil War veteran who died in 1915.
“I think it’s very important to remember our deceased veterans, and that is why it’s so important to place the flags — so they’re not forgotten,” said Fisher. “The troop members are really nice kids who are so helpful. What Evan did showed real initiative. It really impressed me.”
Kuo — who is not Jewish — told NJJN he has been active in the Boy Scouts since first grade. For years, when he went to the cemetery with his troop, they found the list given out for Monmouth Fields was poorly documented; in addition, the headstones are not laid out in perfect rows, making locating the veterans difficult.
“I wanted to make sure no headstone was left out,” said the Tinton Falls resident.
He said he knew “this was a problem I could solve,” and that it would be “a big help to everyone involved and would help to preserve the list for future generations.”
Kuo began by using Google maps, then put in many hours sorting through the names on file and on previous databases. He also acquired official JWV stickers to place on each headstone, marking it as the grave of a Jew who had fought in a war.
Ahead of Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Kuo and his parents, Lynn and Yen, along with other troop members, spent about four hours placing the flags and the blue and silver stickers on the graves, including replacing existing flags that had become worn and tattered in both cemeteries.
Kuo said it was a “happy coincidence” that he and his troop teamed with a Jewish organization.
“I saw I had the ability to help a group of dedicated people to fix a problem, and I wanted to properly honor the veterans’ service and sacrifice for our country,” he said.
“The flags will definitely be maintained every year, and they will be able to use my maps. It has been very rewarding and gratifying and was a good thing to do for the Jewish community and the community in general.”