CRANBERRY TWP — The Southern Butler County Garden Club gave a star performance Wednesday morning when a Blue Star Memorial By-Way Marker was unveiled in Graham Park.
The marker, which honors men and women who serve in the military, is the first of its kind in the township and the first to be installed since 2017, when a different type of Blue Star marker was established along North Duffy Road in Center Township.
Installing the Star
Club member Karen Faust helped bring the marker to Graham Park.
“Blue Star has always been a passion for me,” said Faust, who is head of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania Blue Star Marker West district. “My husband is a Vietnam veteran. It started just as a thank you to God for bringing him home safely.”
National Garden Clubs has run the Blue Star Memorial Highway Program since 1945. It produces three levels of markers: highway, memorial and by-way.
Highway markers are placed on dedicated highways. Memorial markers are installed at national cemeteries, Veterans Affairs medical centers and civic locations. By-way markers are placed in civic gardens, parks and historical sites.
Faust said she grew up seeing Blue Star markers on highways. She wanted to bring one to her community — especially after seeing how Vietnam veterans were received when they came home.
“They were shunned,” Faust said. “Almost like it was their fault.”
Today, Faust does not often see that reaction. Her husband, Harold, is thanked almost every time he wears some piece of Army veteran clothing.
“It's amazing, the change in philosophy,” Faust said. “People are more tolerant today.”
Several regional and local dignitaries were at the community garden in Graham Park for the ceremony.
The flower bed in which the marker sits was planted in June. It's filled specifically with patriotic plants. Southern Butler County Garden Club copresidents Alicia Garrison and Rita Mack identified forget-me-nots, bleeding hearts, “the president” clematis and a serviceberry tree.
“We had a vision for this garden,” Mack said. “We had an opportunity.”
The club wanted to install the marker somewhere public, so the community could also enjoy it. A Cranberry Township grant helped cover the estimated $520 cost of the marker.
The club is mainly focused on maintaining the new memorial. But it isn't ruling out the possibility of installing another somewhere in Butler County. The opportunity just needs to present itself.
“It's the most important thing National Garden Clubs (does),” Faust said.
“It's a great honor,” Garrison said.
Views on valor
The event seemed to make an impression on four Seneca Valley High School JROTC students, who presented the colors during the ceremony.
“People are starting to forget a lot of our past,” said Cassandra Cramm, a junior. “What built us up.”
Junior Zachary Tate said he didn't know about the Blue Star program before Wednesday, but thinks it's relevant. His fellow students agreed.
“It's a way not to forget the past,” Tate said.
“(To) acknowledge what people gave for us,” said James Halyama, a sophomore.
“It's just being able to recognize that (service),” said Erica Hall, a junior.
Yvonne Darragh of McDonald received a special invitation to attend the event as a Blue Star mother. Darragh founded Pennsylvania Chapter 16 of Blue Star Mothers of America Inc., and has a daughter who's a combat engineer.
“I just have an allegiance now to support our deployed troops more than ever,” Darragh said.
Her daughter, Marine 1st Lt. Margo Darragh, served in Okinawa, Thailand and Guam. Margo returned to the United States in May and will be a Marine officer instructor at The Basic School in Quantico.
Darragh believes Blue Star memorials are important because military members aren't always properly recognized. She's glad Cranberry Township has a way to honor soldiers past and present.
“There's such a large presence (here),” Darragh said.
Dick Hadley, chairman of the township's board of supervisors, accepted the marker on behalf of the township.
“This ... is not a grim memorial,” Hadley said. “This Blue Star honors the living soldiers.”
He indicated the township will use the memorial to recognize veterans and soldiers for many years.
“We will honor this marker,” Faust said at the ceremony. “We will take care of it and preserve it for all generations to come.”
Blue Star Memorial information
CRANBERRY TWP — According to the National Garden Clubs Inc., Blue Star Memorial Markers have recognized soldiers since 1945.
Originally, the markers honored men and women who served in World War II. Now, they recognize people who “have served, are serving or will serve” in the U.S. military. Markers are installed across the country. The first international marker was installed this year in Normandy on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Memorials come in three levels of recognition: highway, memorial and by-way markers. Information about each memorial and how a garden club can install one is available at gardenclub.org.