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Community pitches in to install, repair military tribute banners

August 20, 2019 Digital Media Exclusive

Butler resident Dillon Ellwood spent part of Tuesday helping install the remaining military tribute banners for Butler’s American Legion Post 117. Ellwood and his co-worker, Navy veteran Zack Henninger, a Butler native, work for Thoroughbred Construction, which provided a bucket truck as well.

For Dillon Ellwood, it wasn't just about civic pride and community involvement Tuesday morning while manning the controls of the bucket truck to best position it to reach the military tribute banner affixed to a Main Street light pole.

It was about much, much more for the Butler man whose company — Thoroughbred Construction based in Coraopolis — volunteered a bucket truck and two crew members, including Ellwood, to help hang and repair the banners honoring local veterans high above downtown.

“My grandfather is hanging right there at Rite Aid,” Ellwood said, pointing to the tribute banner bearing Leo S. Geagan's picture and name. “It's for a really good cause.”

His co-worker, Navy veteran Zack Henninger — another Butler native who lives in Gibsonia — echoed the sentiment.

“I'm a veteran, so I really appreciate the chance to come out and fix up these signs for the veterans.”

Jim Dittmer, former commander of American Legion Post 117, received several calls this weekend following a Butler Eagle article about the banners, the need for resources and volunteers to hang them.

The Eagle reported Sunday that the Legion was looking for volunteers and bucket trucks to hang the last batch of the more than 400 banners.

Dittmer said he was pleased with the number of people and companies who reached out directly as well as all the others who reached out on Facebook.

Henninger and Ellwood spent three hours Tuesday helping Dittmer and his fellow Legion volunteer Chuck Dufford.

Butler Mayor Ben Smith told the Eagle that the city provides pole space for the banners, including brackets on all new streetlights, to help the program, which always has been run by the local Legion. “People are generally pretty helpful, especially when it comes to veteran or military services,” Smith said.

In addition to Thoroughbred Construction, Dittmer said other volunteers will help finish the project this weekend. Stewart's Fiber & Cable is providing volunteers and a bucket truck on Sunday.

“We all have either a relative or a friend who served,” said Josh Reiner, co-owner of Thoroughbred Construction. “It took a newspaper article to get people to volunteer. I didn't know about it until I read it in the Butler Eagle.”

Reiner and fellow owner Joe Restelli were among 10 area business owners and individuals who stepped forward, according to Dittmer.

Banners started flying high in municipalities throughout the country in recent years due to the efforts of volunteer organizers to help communities recognize, honor and support their local active-duty military personnel and area veterans.

The Butler project is organized and overseen by a team of Legion volunteers led by Dittmer. He told the Eagle last week that his group had 28 banners ready to hang. After the article hit Facebook, Dittmer's phone started ringing.

“It's a real tribute to our military. It's the best military in the world,” Dittmer said. “You come down the road at 30 mph and you're not going to read those banners, but the families know who it is.”

Dittmer said for now, the Legion will not be restarting the program after the final banners are hung this week.

The Legion no longer is taking applications from families for new banners, other than those whose loved ones were killed in action or missing in action.

Kate Shuler, the Legion's new commander, said she would plan to reinstate the program if a team of new volunteers steps forward to take the torch from Dittmer and his team.

This story will appear in Wednesday's Butler Eagle