NSHS senior aims to honor veterans, respect the fallen

NSHS senior aims to honor veterans, respect the fallen

Samuel Turco holds on of the wreaths that will be placed on a grave marker at the RI Veterans Cemetery in Exeter. (Breeze photo by Sandy Seoane)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – His mother is incredibly proud, and even a bit awed by his dedication, and she’s had little luck trying to convince him to scale it back.

North Smithfield High School senior Samuel Turco has made it his personal mission to more than double the number of graves at Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter that are acknowledged and remembered this Christmas by Wreaths Across America.

Through the program, sponsored wreaths are placed on the grave markers at state, national veterans cemeteries as well as local cemeteries each December from Maine to Arlington, Va.

Turco, who has something of a penchant for volunteerism, worked with the organization last year to help place the wreaths, an emotional experience that involves saying the name of each individual aloud – a ritual that aims to ensure that those who served are not forgotten.

“A person dies twice: once when they take their final breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken,” the WAA website explains.

“We are not here to ‘decorate graves.’ We’re here to remember not their deaths, but their lives,” said the organization’s Executive Director Karen Worcester, in a statement

But in 2016, the group only had 488 sponsored wreaths to place on the Rhode Island cemetery’s 30,000 grave markers.

“My goal this year was to double the amount they had last year, maybe even get to 1,000,” Turco said.

It’s the latest endeavor for a young man who has often made charity a priority. Since 6th grade, Turco has worked with Toys for Tots, branching out in his Sophomore year to start collecting the gifts on his own. During his freshman year at the age of 14, he launched a local effort for Operation Christmas Cards collecting some 900 cards to ship to soldiers overseas.

His particular passion for issues facing members of the military comes in part, as a result of his brother Nicholas’ decision to join the Marine Corp five years ago.

“I saw how hard it was for him when he came back from Afghanistan,” Turco said.

Samuel’s mother, Lisa Turco, encouraged him to utilize his work with Wreaths Across America as part of his required senior project, but he had other plans.

After attending a service at Ponagansett Middle School honoring veterans last year, he decided he needed to create a similar program in North Smithfield.

“I believe it’s another way we can honor those who have served and have given the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “These men and women are superheroes in my eyes because they dedicated their lives to defending the country and keeping us all safe.”

In April, he plans to organize an event at North Smithfield Middle School involving the high school band and chorus that is dedicated to veterans.

Turco says he’s met many members of the military as a result of his involvement and, “Veterans issues have become very important to me.”

He plans to study history in college and asked if he’s considering joining the military, Turco said, “They’ve all told me the best way I can help is to stay here. I want to be one of those people who is going to help them transition back to civilian life and to get them on their feet.”

For now, his focus is on wreaths.

Turco has already sold 410, many of which were sponsored by guests to this year’s Pumpkinfest. Now he’s looking for corporate and small business sponsors, in addition to individuals, who might be willing to step up.

And his deadline is Saturday, Nov. 26.

The wreaths cost $15 each, but through a special deal, those who purchase them through Turco can sponsor 3 for $30. For an additional $2 fee, sponsors can also have an “in honor” card mailed to someone, letting them know the wreath was sponsored in their name.

Wreaths may be purchased online at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. To donate to Turco’s mission to cover the grave markers of soldiers in Rhode Island, click “donate to a local fundraising group” and type his name in the search bar.

Sponsors can also make a check out to Wreaths Across America and mail it to Samuel Turco, PO Box 242 Slatersville, RI 02896.

For small businesses, the suggested sponsorship is 10 wreaths for $150 and Turco is also hoping he can find corporate sponsors willing to sponsor 100 wreaths for a cost of $1,500.

The wreaths will be laid in Exeter on Sunday, Dec. 17, when ceremonies will be held nationwide with a moment of silence at noon. The public is invited to join the event and help out.

It is part of Wreaths Across America’s, and now Turco’s mission to “remember those who have served, honor those who are serving and teach our children the value of freedom for their sacrifices.”