05/25/09 — Hundreds meet at American Legion, place flags on vets' graves

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Hundreds meet at American Legion, place flags on vets' graves

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 25, 2009 2:04 PM

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Hannah Janssen, 5, sticks an American flag next to the grave of a veteran at Wayne Memorial Park Saturday morning with the help of her sister Brooklyn. More than 200 people converged on the American Legion Post 11 headquarters to eat breakfast with local veterans before helping them honor their fallen comrades.

At first, it was like a game -- running around a cemetery with a handful of American flags, planting one beside each grave bearing the name of a branch of the U.S. military.

But when 7-year-old Brett Coleman happened upon Theodore Price's final resting place, he made a connection.

"U.S. Army," he read. "My dad's in the U.S. Army."

Moments later, his 8-year-old brother, Andrew, was the one awestruck.

"World War I," he shouted across the graveyard, pushing a flag into the patch of grass to the right of William Herbert Rose's plot. "This one was in World War I. Cool."

Hundreds converged on the American Legion Post 11 headquarters Saturday morning to help local veterans honor their fallen comrades.

Breakfast at the post, followed by the distribution of some 2,400 flags, has become a Memorial Day weekend tradition in Wayne County.

But local veteran Mike Burris can't remember the last time more than 200 people showed up for the event.

"Can you believe that?" he said hours after the last flag was placed. "That's some turnout."

Some simply walked next door to Wayne Memorial Park, where 1,500 flags now grace veterans' graves.

Others drove to Willow-dale, Evergreen and Elmwood.

Mary Wilson and her son, George, were among those on the other side of town while Brett and Andrew were making their discoveries.

They were at Willowdale -- a cemetery well known for the history made by those who rest there.

"Why are they so dirty, Mom?" George asked, pointing to headstones dating back 100 years or more.

"They have been here a long time, baby," Mary replied. "They are your forefathers."

George looked puzzled.

He is only 5 years old.

So Mary took his hand and helped him plant a flag next to the grave of a man who fought in World War II and Vietnam.

"These men are soldiers. Like your G.I Joes," she said. "They died so you can be free."

George smiled and followed his mother to the next military plot.

But then something happened Mary didn't expect.

George dropped the two flags he was holding and ran back to that first grave.

"G.I. Joe," he said, reaching down and touching the stone. "I love G.I. Joe."

More Memorial Day events are being held throughout the county Monday.

Wayne County's official ceremony, which will feature a slide show, poetry reading and keynote address from Rep. Walter Jones, was to be held in the Wayne Community College auditorium at 11 a.m.