Radio Diaries: Memorial Flags

May 30, 2017

It’s Memorial Day and I’m visiting my parents’ graves at Oakwood Cemetery—a lovely scene of well-kept lawns and ancient trees.  Many families are here and single people, older people—lifting flowers out of cars, enacting private rituals of remembrance.

I sit on the grass and talk quietly with the two people whom I dearly miss—despite our various conflicts.  My father’s simple bronze plaque identifies him as a Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy, World War II.  And next to the stone is an American flag—as there is on every veteran’s grave today.

Hundreds and hundreds of flags in every direction across the vast cemetery—a silent testimony to the immense cost of wars and the price paid by the dead and the living.  I’m always moved to see these flags and have wondered who keeps track of where they belong and puts them out every year?

To find out, I called the cemetery office earlier this spring and received information from the sexton.  “Seventeen hundred flags,” I was told.  “It’s done by volunteers from veterans groups, church groups, state and local police.”

The flags remind me what a privilege it is to sit here in this peaceful place—a far cry from the many battlefields where our veterans saw duty.  A far cry.