Honoring and memorializing first responders and veterans: That’s the goal of Sirens and Salutes, a charity founded by Bill Price.
“My dad was a police officer in New York for 30 years. I remember when he passed away. He had police from all over the place. There was a long procession of police cars, there was the fire truck ladders with the flag hanging -- the whole nine yards,” Price said. “We should think about people and thank people while they’re here. Why are we waiting until they’re gone and then doing all this stuff when they don’t get to see it? They don’t get to realize they meant something in somebody’s life.”
Price is a Navy veteran and retired firefighter now volunteering at the Buchanan Fire Department. He also is commander of a local VFW post. He founded the organization with his wife Cindy, a nurse. Both come from service families with military and police backgrounds.
Price believes police officers and firefighters are not being recognized enough.
“You do get thanked quite a bit being a veteran, but I think our first responders, especially our police officers, aren’t appreciated as much as they should be for the jobs that they do and what they have to go through day in and day out, so I do think this helps,” Price said. “They’re not being recognized enough especially for what they go through, on a day in and day out basis. They put on that uniform, and there’s no guarantee that they’re coming home after their shift. So I believe that they’re not being recognized enough and we should be doing more and we should be backing them up more.”
On Memorial Day this year, a new gravestone was unveiled for a local veteran who was killed in combat more than eight decades ago. Sirens and Salutes bought the new headstone for Buchanan native World War II veteran Russell Smith.
Price previously stumbled upon a stone with Smith’s name on it at the Lithia Baptist Cemetery in Botetourt County, Virginia.
“On the rock, it had a plate stamped, ‘Russell Smith, killed in World War II.’ That’s all it said, and it was a little silver plate,” Price said. “I said, ‘Man, this guy could be here and this is all he has? We’ve got to fix this.’”
After months of research, Price learned Smith was born and raised in Buchanan and served in the Army during World War II, where he was killed in combat in France.
To honor the hero, a new headstone was placed beside the old stone at Lithia Baptist Cemetery.
That’s just one recent example of what the organization does. Sirens and Salutes does many things throughout the year to honor first responders and veterans including:
- Cleaning cemeteries that are overgrown that may be forgotten that have veterans buried there.
- Taking food to first responders who are working and away from their families on holidays and events, like the Super Bowl.
- Putting flags on veterans graves for Memorial Day and wreaths during the holidays.
- Delivering Christmas cards to veterans, decorated by local elementary school children.
- Offering a free Veterans Day movie in Buchanan for everyone to see.
- The Fallen Heroes Tree: Wooden star ornaments are hand-painted and marked with the names, departments and date of death of all fire, police, EMS and military. In years past, they have mailed these ornaments to family if requested. They include service dogs.
- Thank you gift cards for local eateries are given to on-duty police and fire when they’re seen in the community.
“It’s incredibly special that people aren’t forgetting us. Especially in corrections, not a lot of people think about us being away from friends and family and it’s special. It’s really nice to be appreciated by the public and groups like this,” said one officer who benefited from the work of Sirens and Salutes.
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Price said this is also about helping the next generation understand, volunteer and help with the mission of honoring first responders and veterans.
The group does battle the limitations of enough monetary donations and volunteers to do the work.
“I try to be very transparent and want to make sure that people know that when they donate to our charity, it’s going to where they expect it to go to first responders and veterans to honoring them and memorializing them,” Price said. “Volunteerism is down all over. It’s very hard with people working, sometimes two jobs, trying to raise a family, trying to have dinner together to get people to come out volunteer and do stuff. We’ve been fortunate in the community. I put the word out and I get I usually get a quite a good turnout.”
Price said he just wants to make sure these brave men and women know how much they are appreciated.
“Thank them and make them aware of the difference that they make -- veterans and first responders -- every day protecting our community in our country,” Price said.
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