Scouts, students honor veterans at inaugural event to raise awareness for ‘Wreaths Across America’

Highland Mills. The scouts reasearched area veterans in the cemetery to learn about their dedication to service.

| 20 Nov 2023 | 06:10

On Veterans Day earlier this month, a group of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and local students spoke at the grave sites of 10 American soldiers laid to rest at the Cemetery of the Highlands in Highland Mills as part of a fundraiser for Wreaths Across America. The cemetery tour came after weeks of research by several members of the scouts.

“I am the Wreaths Across America coordinator at Cemetery of the Highlands and we will be lying wreaths for a third straight year at graves of our fallen heroes, so I wanted to find a way to bring attention and some fundraising to wreath laying day, which this year will take place Saturday, Dec. 16,” said Lisa Hintze. “We got some young people involved, picked 10 veterans, worked with the historical society and finished the walk through the cemetery right at 11 a.m. at our veterans monument. At that cemetery, we have veterans from the Revolutionary War right through to the Persian Gulf.”

“I was given a man by the name of Robert Anthony Risoli to research,” explained Eagle Scout Jack Thau, who serves as assistant scout master for Troop 440 and is enlisted in the National Guard. “Sargeant Risoli was born on May 2, 1971, and died Aug. 17, 1998, at the age of 27.”

“Unfortunately, it was difficult to find a lot about him, but we knew he lived in Chester, enlisted in the 82nd Airborne and served as a paratrooper in the Persian Gulf War. We do know that when he returned home, he served as a police officer in White Plains.”

Since additional information on Sgt. Risoli was difficult to come up with, Thau, 18, took the opportunity to speak about the role paratroopers such as Risoli played during Operation Desert Storm. “They played a vital role in the first Gulf War by participating in various operations, including reconnaissance missions, offensive tactics, securing key locations and conducting raids behind enemy lines, and supporting the overall ground campaign to help liberate Kuwait.”

Thau plans to enroll in college in January and pursue a career in law enforcement.

Eagle Scout Michael Kearney, of Troop 440, who’s also the assistant scout leader and troop historian, researched Captain William G. Brown, a veteran of the Union Army during the American Civil War. Upon returning from the war, Brown, who lived in Monroe, chartered the first Boy Scout Troop in Monroe, Troop 1, on Oct. 13, 1910, shortly after the Boy Scouts of America was founded and chartered by the United States Congress.

“Tragically, Capt. Brown collapsed and died while on a hike with this Troop on Oct. 6, 1911,” said Kearney, 18, who attends Mount Saint Mary’s College. “Born in 1844, he was a private in the 111th Regiment of Volunteers.”

Kearney added that George Washington buried some of his men in the “old cemetery” behind the church at the Cemetery of the Highlands.

“It’s amazing how historical that cemetery is,” he said.

Girl Scout Troop 599 Leader Amy Wittrock had four of her girls participate in the event.

“It was a fantastic opportunity for kids to learn about veterans in the area. We instill in our girls the importance of service and here they are learning about people who were all about service,” Wittrock said.

Charlotte Wittrock, 11, teamed up with fellow scout Veronica “Ronnie” Clough, also 11, to learn about Alphonse G. DiPalma, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War but did not see action. Upon leaving the service, he was a New York City firefighter for 20 years.

“I learned that when they came home, a lot were not treated as heroes because of everything that was going on at the time,” Charlotte said.

Wittrock said that two other girls in her troop researched and presented somewhat of a mysterious veteran.

“My other two girls, Julianna and Savannah Ferrara, 11, who are twins, presented a soldier related to Jones Farm people in Cornwall and yet nobody seemed to know him,” Wittrock said. “When he returned from overseas, he seemed to have been suffering from some trauma and that is something our girls talked about... the trauma so many Vietnam veterans experienced and how many did not get help for it.”

To learn more about Wreaths Across America, visit