Tradition honors nation’s heroesActions, they say, speak louder than words. Thursday, a message of thanks grew louder with each American flag that students, veterans and volunteers placed beside the graves of veterans in Greenwood Cemetery.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Actions, they say, speak louder than words. Thursday, a message of thanks grew louder with each American flag that students, veterans and volunteers placed beside the graves of veterans in Greenwood Cemetery.
““It’ll be quite a picture by the end of the day,” said Superior Middle School social studies teacher Greg Abts. “People should get out and take a look this weekend. It’s really pretty impressive the number of flags that they put out.”
For decades, flags have been placed beside graves in Superior for Memorial Day. The mapping of veterans’ graves was begun by World War II veterans Laurence Cummings and Charlie Kolanczyk.
“My grandfather said ‘this has to be done. Period.’ There was no why,” said Cummings’ granddaughter, Jan Peterson. “These men and women have given the ultimate … they signed a blank check to their country, up to and payable with their lives.
“This is the least they deserve — the very least,” Peterson said.
For the past 18 years, the Solon Springs woman has continued her family’s legacy with a core group of volunteers, mainly veterans. Four years ago, they got a fresh infusion of helpers by partnering with eighth grade social studies classes. The students have been a big help, said Bill Duffy, a member of the Richard I. Bong American Legion Post 435.
“Walking these hills, most of us are in our 80s,” Duffy said. “So those kids come in handy.” This year they also got a boost from members of the Disabled American Veterans as well as a group of letter carriers. Thursday, flags were waving in all but Nemadji and St. Francis cemeteries shortly after lunch time.
“It’s always great working with the kids,” said David Kringle, commander of American Legion Post 435.
This year, 60 students volunteered to put out flags.
“I think it’s great that we do this,” said eighth grader Anthony Bronson. “They put their lives on the line for us so we have to represent them somehow.”
Letter carrier Dave Hamil also volunteered his time to plant flags Thursday. The U.S. Air Force veteran has seen the flags out in previous years, but he never knew who put them there. He was even able to honor a member of his own family at Greenwood.
“My great-grandfather was a Civil War vet and I wanted to do his grave specifically, so I did that,” Hamil said.
He and his daughter Sarah walked from headstone to headstone with Anthony and fellow eighth grader Daniel Burger, consulting a hand-drawn map to locate veterans’ graves. Occasionally, Daniel would ask Hamil about his service— how long he was in the Air Force (24 years) and if he served in the Gulf War. Their flag-planting mission meant a lot to the veteran.
“But for the people who came before we wouldn’t have the freedoms that we have now,” he said. “To use a phrase from Australia, ‘Lest we forget.’ So, we have to remember them.”
The flags are a reminder of a promise kept. For 18 years, Peterson has carried on her grandfather’s legacy.
“It’s just something really important and it has to be continued,” she said. Having the students makes it that much better.
“They’re doing something very important,” Peterson said.
Abts gave his students an assignment stemming from the activity. They have to write a short report on their experience placing flags — who they met, what they read and any ‘wow’ moments they have.
Youth said they were surprised by how old parts of the cemetery are. Some graves date back to the 1800s. Others noticed how young some of the veterans were when they died.
This weekend, Abts said, many people will come into town and notice that someone took the time to honor these veterans.
“If you want to help, we’re out here every year,” Peterson said. Anyone is welcome to take part in placing the flags. The volunteers always begin at 9 a.m. the Thursday before Memorial Day at Greenwood Cemetery. After that cemetery is finished, the group travels to other Superior cemeteries. Sadly, not every grave gets found.
“We miss people every year, we find people every year,” Peterson said. “We do our best.” But they never knowingly skip someone. Anyone who knows the whereabouts of a veteran’s grave that may not be listed on current maps can call Peterson at (715) 378-4399 to check.