Twelve-year-old Boy Scout Joshua Katz, a member of Gulf Stream Council Troop 215 in Boynton Beach, Florida, organized and funded the POW-MIA-OREE project for National POW-MIA Remembrance Day, observed on the third Friday in September.
To show appreciation for the service and sacrifice of U.S. military veterans, Katz and other Scouts from throughout the Gulf Stream Council placed commemorative tokens on more than 16,000 veterans’ gravestones at the South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth, Florida.
Katz had noticed coins on some of the graves when he volunteered at the cemetery, handing out water during a Memorial Day event. He later learned the significance of each coin: Visitors left a penny if they simply read and acknowledged the service of the soldier; a nickel if they, too, had served in the military; a dime if they had served with the soldier; and a quarter if they were there when the soldier died.
It troubled Katz that most of the graves were without coins. He organized a plan to acknowledge and show respect for each soldier in the cemetery, with help from his mentor Evan Reif, district executive of Sailfish and Big Lake.
Katz contacted the cemetery director, Kirk Leopard, to share his plan for placing a coin on top of each soldier’s headstone. However, Leopard was concerned that the coins might fall to the ground and become hazardous, flying into the air if a lawnmower ran over them. So Katz, using his own savings, designed an easily recognizable wooden coin that would break up if hit by a lawnmower—thus posing no danger to cemetery staff or machinery. In addition, the coins would be re-collected and made available for visiting family members to take home if they so desired.
On Saturday, Sept. 13, Katz and his fellow Scouts as well as parents, friends, cemetery staff, and elected dignitaries, gathered to honor the fallen heroes. They read the names of more than 16,000 soldiers and placed the coins on their gravestones.
For his efforts, Katz received a flag that previously flew over the U.S. capitol in Washington. His name was entered into the Congressional Record, and he received other honors and praise from officials including Congressman Ted Deutch, Senator Jeremy Ring, Karen Brill of the Palm Beach County School Board, Commander Robert Gest, and directors of the South Florida National Cemetery.
“We have to respect the soldiers. They fought for us,” Katz said during an interview with WPEC-TV CBS 12 in West Palm Beach.
Katz hopes his actions will inspire other Scouts to make POW-MIA-OREE a Boy Scout project across the country, acknowledging every fallen hero for his or her sacrifice.