Flags for Memorial Day Scouts mark veteran graves


News staff writer

May 24, 2006

Eleven-year-old John Parker takes pride in putting an American flag next to the grave of his grandfather in Idlewild Cemetery each May.

Although the World War II veteran did not die in combat, Parker feels a great deal of respect for his service to country.

“He was a good guy and a Christian. I think that maybe all of his prayers saved him,” said Parker, a member of Boy Scout Troop 378.

He and fellow scouts made two discoveries while setting up Memorial Day flags in the Hood River cemetery. They found the final resting place of Private James Hankin, a Confederate soldier and prisoner in the Civil War who died in 1893. They also came across the grave of Union Corporal Charles Finn, who died in 1984.

“Putting flags on these old graves and then the newer ones really showed us the reality of war,” said Kaleb Apland, 16.

The local troop will spend two to four hours on Thursday placing patriotic markers on all military graves at the Hood River burial ground. When the annual Memorial Day ceremony begins at 9:45 a.m. Monday, the scouts will have dotted the landscape with the colors of red, white and blue.

Their task used to be much harder since there was no way to distinguish which graves belonged to veterans. But Dennis Leonard, commander of American Legion Post 22, solved that problem by enlisting the help of FFA club members at Hood River Valley High School. These students blocked out sections of the cemetery and then walked that grid to mark all of the military graves on a special map.

Scout Master Nick Kirby believes the special duty during the past four years has taught his troop many lessons on community service and patriotism.

“I think they have a better idea about the sacrifices many individuals have made to give them the freedoms they enjoy,” he said.

Kristoff Decker, 15, agrees with that analysis.

“So many kids now don’t even think about what Memorial Day is all about. To them it’s just a day to stay home and play video games and eat popcorn,” he said.

Kevin Warner, 17, said the reality of war is brought home to him each time he sees the many flags spread out across the grounds.

“It’s just very sobering and also very inspiring to see so many flags waving in one cemetery,” he said.

Sam Kirby, 13, said that lesson was reinforced even more vividly when he visited Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., last year.

He said it was almost overwhelming to see the thousands of white headstones that were well-guarded by men and women who willingly braved the rain and heat. He hopes that Hood River residents will get a similar experience by viewing the handiwork of Troop 378.

“I think taking one day out of year and one hour of that day to honor the men and women who sacrificed lives for them is not too much for anyone to do,” said Decker.

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