Laying flags for fallen soldiers an honor, say volunteers

Asher Hansow, 7, of Grand Junction pushes a small American flag into the ground Friday in the center circle of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado. He was lending a hand to his grandmother, Joanna Daub. Daub is a Blue Star Mother with a son serving in Afghanistan. She recalls setting up Memorial Day flags with her grandfather and uncle when she was younger than Asher.

Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado is adorned with nearly 3,800 American flags today.

A handful of volunteers gathered Friday afternoon at the cemetery to poke 2,282 wooden posts attached to miniature flags into the ground at each grave site. Another 1,440 flags were posted on a round of grass in the middle of the cemetery, where speakers will honor veterans past and present with a Memorial Day ceremony at 10 a.m. today.

The work took only about 30 minutes, despite interference from some unwelcome wind. Placing the flags was a small gesture to honor the immense sacrifice of this country’s military veterans and soldiers, Western Slope Harley Owners Group Director P.J. Buechle said. Buechle and other members of the motorcycle group have helped place flags at the cemetery during Memorial Day weekend for years.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” she said. “We want to honor the fallen and show support for our country.”

Buechle has a soft spot for the sacrifices of warriors. Her first husband died fighting in the Vietnam War. Art “Groady” Edwards, Western Slope assistant state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders, fought in that war as well. He said he and other Patriot Guard Riders like to help decorate the cemetery for Memorial Day to make other veterans feel appreciated and honor veterans buried in the cemetery.

“We volunteer to put up flags to show our appreciation for veterans who have gone before us,” Edwards said.

As a Navy veteran, Edwards said he didn’t face as much scrutiny as some Marines and Army soldiers when he returned from Vietnam. But he knows it can be tough to return from duty and not receive a warm welcome. For him, Memorial Day is a time to offer that warm welcome.

“It’s a time to reflect, to thank people for their services,” Edwards said.

Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado Director Dick Gigliotti said he’s worried newer generations don’t remember the sacrifices of World War II, Vietnam and other conflicts. He hopes that changes.

“Professionally, (Memorial Day) means organizing a ceremony. Personally, it’s one day a year people seem to set aside what they’re doing and recognize the sacrifice of others,” he said.

Of course, not every veteran served so far in the past. Gigliotti makes sure soldiers who died in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are recognized with the 1,440 flags in the center of the cemetery.

Each of those flags represents nearly five U.S. military personnel killed in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.


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