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Posted May 17, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Eagle Scout project will honor WWII soldiers

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER-- Always being prepared is a quality prized by Boy Scouts around the country, but it takes something else to run with a plan when it leaves you completely unprepared for what will come next.

Knowing his Eagle Scout project was coming up, 15-year-old Sammy Hutchins, of Winchester, jumped at the chance to build a memorial for local soldiers who had fought in World War II.

Most Boy Scouts have a couple of years to plan out their projects, raise funds, recruit help and complete the job. Sammy had less than three months.

Aiming for the goal of June 6, the anniversary of D-Day at Normandy, France, Sammy had no time to waste from the moment he heard that John O. Marsh Jr., former secretary of the Army, was hoping a local Boy Scout would erect a memorial to area veterans.

Sammy's parents had attended a speech given by Marsh during the Shenandoah Area Council Boy Scouts of America 2010 Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner, according to the project description Sammy typed up as part of his Eagle Scout project. Marsh challenged any Boy Scout to "honor the Virginian soldiers who died at Omaha [Beach] at Normandy, France, on June 6th, 1944, as an Eagle Scout project. My parents saw this as a great opportunity to put together my two greatest passions in life: scouting and history," Sammy wrote.

"I am very passionate about history, especially World War II history," he says.

The plan to build a memorial at Jim Barnett Park quickly took flight, morphing from the vague idea of placing a plaque next to the POW/MIA memorial near the War Memorial Building, to the more definite decision of adding a walkway and rose garden to the lawn in front of the building.

"For years we'd talked about doing something in front of the War Memorial Building," says Brad Veach, director of the Winchester Parks and Recreation Department.

"Mr. Veach suggested the rose garden," Sammy says. "I had no intentions of a rose garden." He worked it out, though, drawing on his extensive personal knowledge of history.

Surrounded by a brick walkway and highlighting a plaque, the garden memorial will be in a place of high visibility, he says.

The plaque will read, "This memorial is dedicated to the men of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the Virginia National Guard for their valiant efforts on June 6, 1944, at Omaha Beach. You will never be forgotten."

Planning an Eagle Scout project is never easy, requiring many hours of preparation, goals statements, fundraising, negotiating and recruitment of community organizers, services, family, friends and fellow Boy Scouts.

For Sammy, however, the process has been compounded by the fact that his deadline is coming up so soon. He and other members of Troop 45 will break ground for the garden on Saturday, which gives them two weeks to complete the entire structure in time for the dedication on June 6 at 1 p.m.

Counting on a little help from their friends, Sammy and his mother, Fabiola, have been knocking on doors, making phone calls and mailing out letters to residents all over Winchester, Frederick and Clarke counties for weeks.

They contracted Elvira Landscaping in Boyce to provide roses for the garden and do the landscaping work, says Hutchins, who already knew owner Ed Elvira.

Sammy also looked for other opportunities to gain support and aid from the community.

"At Apple Blossom I sold cookies for a dollar a cookie," he says. He has also been mowing lawns.

Hutchins hopes that the community will contribute to the project.

"We are fronting the money to do it," she says, explaining that normally Scouts will have time to raise funds before having to purchase materials to complete their projects.

"It never ends with the fundraising," she says.

Other members of Sammy's troop are working on building a walkway at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, a sidewalk for an orphanage in Haiti and a walkway at a local church.

Kevin Sine, crew supervisor in the maintenance division of the Winchester Parks and Recreation Department, has been helping Sammy with planning the garden and communicating with the landscaper. Once an Eagle Scout himself, Sine works with all Scouts who have ideas for improving the parks.

"It makes it nice because I have some insight," he says, which helps "to make the process go a little smoother."

Currently he is working with two other Scouts whose separate projects focus on building an ADA handicap ramp to the Timbrook House at 205 E. Piccadilly St., and landscaping around the building.

Planning the memorial has been a lot of work in a very short amount of time, but for Sammy it is totally worth the effort.

He feels that many Winchester residents do not realize the part local soldiers played in the invasion of Normandy.

"To get people to know that we took part in it [D-Day] and that people gave their lives for our freedom" is a goal very close to his heart, he says.

'It's another group of forgotten soldiers ... and it'll make this area look nicer," he says. He hopes that many people will attend the dedication and will appreciate the effort made in commemoration of the 116th Infantry Division. He wants to remember the soldiers, "so that they did not die for nothing and they made the ultimate sacrifice."

His mother agrees that the addition of the memorial at the park might spur interest in local history.

"It's something close to home," she says. "[The history] is so close and so little people know about it."

Hutchins, who has been involved in the process every step of the way, stresses the pride she has for her son and the feat he has taken on himself.

"I'm very excited. It's a great pride to see your child growing into a man and following the steps of passion."

Sammy hopes that the convenience of the memorial will also encourage visitors.

"You don't have to travel across the Atlantic, you don't have to go to D.C.," he says.

Following the dedication, Sammy plans to travel to Europe for 20 days this summer to visit France, Greece and Italy with People to People, a local group for teenagers. He will stay in the homes of families in the areas they visit to help him learn their culture and will visit WWII memorials.

He will then meet up with a cousin in Paris and stay with her for 10 days in Madrid, Spain, he says. He plans to see Normandy while in France.

"This is my year of experiences," he says.

Fabiola and Sammy Hutchins are accepting donations for the Eagle Scout memorial project and can be contacted at 514-0405.

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