For each grave, a gift: Scouts, others plant flags at every National Cemetery marker
SALISBURY — They came as a team, sporting their red “USA” T-shirts.
“We figure this is the right way to start the Memorial Day weekend,” Lynn Meeks of Davidson County said.
She and two of her daughters, First Sgt. Barbara Walter and Tamara Meeks, were waiting Saturday morning among a throng of people preparing to place some 5,900 American flags beside the markers in the Salisbury National Cemetery.
This National Cemetery site is next to the Hefner VA Medical Center.
Back in late March, Lynn Meeks’ husband and the girls’ father, Douglas W. Meeks, was buried here in Section 12, an area that was off limits to the flag participants Saturday because a funeral service was scheduled there later in the morning.
Grounds Foreman Tim Blume said his work crew would take care of the flags in that section.
Blume said Saturday’s public participation in setting the flags, which included many Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from Rowan County and their families, was the most he could remember in his almost 16 years with the National Cemetery.
“I’d say there’s about 150 people here,” said Blume, whose 8-year-old son, Aaron, and wife, Jenny, were among the volunteers. “It’s awesome.”
With the large turnout, it took less than an hour for flags to be set in front of each marker and at the columbaria. For Blume, the day is special because his other son, 19-year-old Tyler, is a Marine in avionics school in Pensacola, Fla.
When he was as young as 4 or 5, Tyler Blume used to help his father put flags in the ground at the older National Cemetery site off Railroad Street, where flags also were set Saturday.
Douglas Meeks was a retired U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who fought in Vietnam. Lynn Meeks’ parents are buried in the older National Cemetery across town, and other family members were there, too, helping with the flag duties.
“We divide and conquer,” Lynn said. Her father, George Reudelhuber, was a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. Her daughter Barbara, who is visiting from Delaware, Ohio, is in the Army Reserve, having already served two tours in Iraq.
“It’s nice to see everybody come out,” Walter said.
So, yes, honoring veterans and supporting the military in general has always meant a lot to Lynn Meeks and her family. She plans to travel to the National Cemetery again Monday for the Memorial Day service.
There were others who made a special trip to the cemetery Saturday.
“I drive four hours here every year,” Sgt. Chris Simmons of the U.S Air Force said.
Simmons is based out of Charleston, S.C., and he’s recently back from a deployment in southwest Asia. He has made it a point each of the past five years to drive up from Charleston to set some flags in the National Cemetery.
The 1999 West Rowan High graduate also combines his personal tradition with a visit with family in Salisbury. About three years ago, a young Cub Scout from Pack 320 in Woodleaf, Dylan Hartle, approached Simmons one Memorial Day weekend and the two struck up a fast friendship.
They’ve seen each other yearly at the National Cemetery since then, and they exchanged a few emails during Simmons’ recent deployment overseas.
In each of the past two years, Simmons also has awarded Dylan a volunteer medal for his participation in the flag-setting at the National Cemetery. Dylan was accompanied in his duties Saturday by his parents, Brad and Elizabeth Hartle.
Woodleaf’s Pack 320 had strong overall participation Saturday — about 25 Cubs, including 10-year-old Alex Powers, who said he was there “to honor all the people who died for our country.”
“Without them,” he added, “we wouldn’t be free.”
“This is the least we can do,” said Alex’s father, Mike, who also had his 7-year-old son, Aiden, working the grounds.
Landon, Jason and Nathan Johnson were pushing flags into the finely manicured grass with their mother, Helena. Landon, 8, said the flags were meant to honor each person who had died and who had served the country.
“I think it’s nice, paying respect,” Helena Johnson said.
Scoutmaster Steve Wolfe of Pack 442 said his Cubs look forward to this Memorial Day exercise. Older Pack members especially understand the significance of the flags, and they try to teach the younger Cubs.
Wolfe said his own son, Nikolas, is enthusiastic about the flags.
“I can’t get him up for school, but he woke up at 6:15 this morning,” Wolfe said.
Brothers Adison Gill, 10, and Athan Gill, 8, said they were planting flags as a way to honor veterans who had served the country. Their grandmother, Linda Smith of Granite Quarry, helped them.
“I thought it was an honor to be out here and do this for our soldiers,” she said. “I wish I could do more.”
Natasha Tucker also was with Pack 442 and her 10-year-old son, Jamir. She said it meant a lot to pay respect for the fallen.
After most people had left the cemetery grounds, Lynn Meeks and her daughters asked permission to visit Douglas’ grave in Section 12.
They paid their respects and joined together as a family to put a flag next to Douglas’ stone marker, which said he was a proud and loving husband, dad and “papaw.”
Lynn said she and Douglas were married 37 years, four months and three days. She still travels to Salisbury almost weekly to visit his grave and have a talk with him.
“Sometimes I just need some guidance on things,” she said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.