05/31/10 — Heroes forever

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Heroes forever

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 31, 2010 10:41 AM

News-Argus Video Report

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Cecil Gregory and his wife, Marie, place flowers and an American flag on the grave of their son, Glenn Lee Gregory, at Wayne Memorial Park on Saturday.

A bundle of American flags slung over his shoulder, David Isbell made his way across the patches of lawn that run in between the headstones that grace Willowdale Cemetery Saturday morning -- his friend, Brandon Murray-Cruz, trailing not too far behind.

But when he reached the final resting place of James C. Kannan, the 11-year-old paused.

"Whoa," David said, looking back at his 12-year-old companion. "Hey, come look at this one."

For the boys, this particular soldier was quite a find.

"He was in World War II, Korea and Vietnam," David told Brandon, before rising from a crouch and looking back across the grounds.

"Hey, guys," the boy shouted. "We found one who was in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He's over here."

The boys, both members of the Tuscarora Council Boy Scout Troop 299, were two of hundreds of Wayne County residents who left the local American Legion headquarters no more than an hour earlier, tasked with placing flags at the graves of some 4,400 local heroes.

And for veteran Gerry Phelps, their excitement gave him hope that future generations will maintain the same sense of patriotism and respect for those who serve that he and his wife, Jeanne, grew up with.

"It shows their upbringing," he said. "These young kids, they came out here to spend their Saturday morning like this when they could have been home watching TV or out playing ball. I think it's great."

His wife nodded her head.

She knows all too well about the sacrifices some who serve make.

"Two of her uncles were killed in World War II," Phelps said.

So for Jeanne, seeing so many people turn out to honor men and women like her loved ones was special.

"It's nice to see," she said. "I was always brought up where you went to the cemetery on Memorial Day -- cleaned up the graves and all."

Thirteen-year-old Victor Thomas called it a "responsibility."

His mother, Heather, said they have come out to Willowdale during the holiday weekend for years.

"We always want to do this one," she said. "It's more historical, so it's more exciting for them."

Phelps prefers Willow-dale, too.

But his reason is more personal -- men buried there like William Howard Bain, who, like Phelps' grandfather, served in the Spanish-American War.

"My grandfather was only 17 when he served with Teddy Roosevelt," he said.

More than an hour before that group placed those flags, county Veterans and Patriots Coalition president Bill Graham looked over the hundreds who turned out to kick off the Memorial Day weekend -- one that will culminate inside the Wayne Community College auditorium this morning.

"Looks like we set a record," he said. "I think we counted 230."

He and his comrades had hoped more residents would "get it" this year, that many would put off vacations to help veterans honor those service members lost.

"Memorial Day, it's not about going to the beach. It's not about having a good time," Graham said. "It's about honoring the fallen."

And by morning's end, they had done just that.