Cottrel: Decorating graves is sign of respecct

The honor of decorating the family graves has fallen to my generation and I’ve found myself visiting various family burial sites over these last few weeks. Pulling weeds, wiping dirt and dust off of the stones, and leaving flowers has been an act of love and respect. It takes a lot of effort to do it right.

Looking out over the cemeteries this last weekend I saw hundreds of red, white, and blue flags waving across the lush green grass, stately stones and flowers. It really was quite beautiful to behold.

Placing the flags for Memorial Day has to be a huge undertaking and I wondered who does it. Who should I be thanking? It turns out that the answer is different for each area.

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Bethel Township resident Dave Suther is one of the many in this area who have answered the call to place the flags in honor of deceased veterans. I asked him how he got started.

“The New Carlisle American Legion, Post 286, has been placing flags at the surrounding cemeteries for over 50 years now. It started with Leonard ‘Curly’ Medlock before Frank Case and Joe Tomes took over the project,” said Suther.

“They mapped it out and delivered flags to multiple cemeteries, including a few not on the map, but located on farmland.”

Around 10 years ago Suther took over the project. With Commander Keith Sage, and Harold Wade Jr. he places the flags at 29 local cemeteries. VFW 9966 and Boy Scouts Troop 27 handle the biggest cemetery which is New Carlisle. It takes 1685 flags.

Now I had no idea there were so many cemeteries around New Carlisle. As Suther explained some are private burials on farms and at some they just put two flags at the entrance because they cannot find stone markers.

How many of these local burial grounds can you locate? They are Asbury, Beech-Grove, Bethel Baptist-New Carlisle, Black, Callison, Clark County Home Infirmary, Crawford, Donnelsville, Emmanuel, Flick, Frantz-Garver, Funderburg, German Baptist, Hain-Slagle, Helvie, Honey Creek Christian Church, Huber Mennonite, Jeruselum-Friermood, Keifer, Lamme, Liberty Creek-Ulery, Medway, Minnick, Myers, New Boston, New Carlisle, Old Donnellsville, Prince, and Sims Chapel cemeteries.

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“I have detailed maps showing the driver how to get from the first cemetery to the 29th cemetery with driving instructions starting and ending at the Legion,” said Suther.

According to Suther, Glen Haven Memorial Gardens on Route 40 takes care of their own flags and placement.

This year Suther and Wade were joined by Suther’s grandson Jeremy Westendorf when they placed 508 flags at Medway Cemetery. I could tell it meant a lot to him to have the newest generation helping.

“Harold Wade Jr and I graduated Tecumseh High School in 1972 and joined the Navy. I served four years and he served eight years. Jeremy will graduate THS in 2019 and was in the Tecumseh AFJROTC. He’s my grandson and attends all the Honor Flights with me,” he said.

I was curious how they find all the veterans in a cemetery. Suther said that a grave plot map helps, but it is still time consuming. Not all the cemeteries have a map.

“It takes three hours to do Medway and about an hour to do Donnelsville,” he said.

Part of the difficultly is bending over to plant each flag in the ground… hundreds of times.

“I even bought a 2-foot screwdriver to save on my back. Once a veteran’s marker is located, you poke a hole in the ground, with the screwdriver, close to the marker and then place the flag in the hole. The ground is usually hard and this prevents the flag stick from breaking. The longer the screwdriver…the less you have to bend over,” said Suther.

Suther said they can always use volunteers to help with flag placement.

Keep this in mind next May, Folks. This seems like the ideal circumstance for many hands, and backs, to make for light work. It would be a great club, church, class, or family project and a lovely afternoon outside together.

Now that I know how much efforts go into flag placement I appreciate those personal flags even more.

When I placed flowers at my uncles’ graves this year I appreciated it that the flags were already flying. They were a constant honor and recognition by fellow citizens.

It is a beautiful way to say “Thank you” and “We will never forget.”

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