In Marysville (WA) our local cemetery always lines its roads with American flags on Memorial Day. Years ago I drove to the cemetery to take some photos of the flags. I drove to the cemetery early in the morning and was disappointed to not see any flags. As I turned onto the road in front of the cemetery I saw a group of people at the side entrance. I parked my car in the church across the street and wandered up to the group. I asked about the flags and was told that they were there to set up the flags. What a lucky accident!
The volunteers included recent veterans, veterans of Vietnam, Korea, and WWII as well as ROTC kids, and others. A large pickup truck was filled to overflowing with flags on tall white poles. At 8am the truck started rolling and we would each grab a flag and post it. Everyone had to move quickly because the truck just kept rolling. There were about 170ish flags and they were all posted in under 15 minutes.
I really enjoyed helping place the flags and working with such a cross-section of volunteers. I later found out that these were not ordinary flags but each flag was a donated casket flag. Each flag covered the casket of a fallen hero who did not make it home alive. In years passed I would drive by the cemetery and marvel at the colorful and dignified display of flags. Now those same flags have an entirely different meaning.
When I see the flags now I have very mixed emotions. I feel respect of the highest order for those who sacrificed everything so that I can enjoy freedom. I feel sorrow for all the families and friends who lost loved ones. I think of the wives, children, boyfriends, girlfriends, sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers who lost someone who can never be replaced. We should always treat our flag, the symbol of our great nation, with respect. But, these flags should be treated with extra respect because each one is there because someone sacrificed their life for us.
Memorial Day is not about an extra day off, picnics, and family outings. Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring those who gave their lives so that the rest of us can live in freedom. Those who join the military give the government a blank check and agree that they will give what is required up to and including their very life. On Memorial Day we remember those who gave their life for the rest of us.
When you see these flags on Memorial Day don’t just admire the colors or look upon then as pretty decorations. Remember the sacrifice required and the lives lost. Always remember that each of those flags covered the casket of a fallen hero.
When paying your respects to the fallen at cemeteries you will often see coins on headstones. Coins have added significance on military gravesites. While there are a variety of explanations this seems to be the consensus for the meaning of each coin.
- Penny: You knew the deceased
- Nickel: You trained together
- Dime: You serving in the same company
- Quarter: You were with the deceased at the time of death
It seems that this tradition started in the United States started during the Vietnam War to leave a message to the family. I also found articles stating that the coins could be a down payment for a drink to be shared with their comrade in the afterlife.
Memorial Day Tributes
Tony Cataldo (6/2016, 5/2017)