25 May 2008

Memorial Flag Mission Accomplished

Yesterday morning, with the temperature hovering a little over 40 degrees, volunteers from two Boy Scout Troops (123 from Worthington, and 261 from Marble Cliff), scout parents, a few volunteers from Peoples Rights Organization, and veteran members of Ohio American Legion Post 1 (Southway) gathered yesterday morning at Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio to flag the graves of veterans buried on more than 300 acres.

This has been something I have been helping with for more than five years. Not long enough in my estimation, but it is important to me with my dad, uncles, a couple cousins all being veterans, and with three nephews who currently serve in the Army.

There are more than 170,000 people buried in Greenlawn cemetary, some notable, some that no one remembers. I have no idea how many are veterans. But armed with 4,500 flags, we fanned out across the grounds on a pictureque day. There were other groups out yesterday morning flagging graves as well.

Led by Dave Stockham, past commander of Ohio American Legion Post 1, everyone was given their orders. First, we worked the areas where a number of World War 2 and World War 1 veterans are buried. Then moved back toward the front of the cemetery and honored veterans from earlier conflicts -- the Civil War, the Spanish American War to name a few. More than 30 uniformed Scouts fanned out in every direction, most often teamed up.

Among those in attendance (people whom I know) were Jeremy Herman, a new Eagle Scout, and his mother, Sherry. TRL contributor Jude Cuddy and his son, Andrew, worked together to honor veterans with a simple flag. Jude and I commented more than once during the five or so hours we were all at Greenlawn that not enough people take the time to stop and read the military grave markers. To actually look at the dates and think about the person buried there.

Like the the marker of a young man, a Lt. Col., who flew Army Air Corp. bombers and died in 1945. When you read the dates you realize he was 23 years old when he died. He likely was shot down, or suffered other injuries resulting from combat. Or the World War 2 veteran who lived to be some 70+ years old. When you look at his birthdate, however, you realize he either enlisted or was drafted at age 45 to fight in World War 2. And you can't help but wonder how many people would be willing to serve at that age today.
There was the grave of Lewis Carter, who served in the Spanish American War as an "artificer." I had to look that up in the dictionary this morning. It is a very old term that means "craftsman." I am still trying to put my arms around how the most important thing a man was known for during this war between the United States and Spain was being one who can craft things well. If anyone can enlighten me on this word and its military significance, please drop me a line.

While at Greenlawn yesterday, an african-american gentleman approached me and asked if I was affiliated with the Scouts. I replied that "no, I am just volunteering" but was working with group. We began talking and I learned that he had served in Europe in the Air Corps (later to be known as the U.S. Air Force) toward the end of World War 2. He was stationed in Germany through the trials of Nazi leaders, many of whom were put to death for "crimes against humanity." He stayed in the Air Force, noting that for a while he was stationed in Louisiana -- culture shock for a young man born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. The Deep South was not hospitable to black soldiers during that time. Ultimately, he was attached to the Tuskegee Airmen group, and was assigned to Lockbourne (later known as Rickenbacker) Air Force Base near Columbus.

I hated to cut our visit short because of what all we had left to do, but shook his hand, thanked him for his service and handed him a flag.

After we wrapped up around 2 pm, my daughter and I went off in search of a grave that Dave Stockham, Jude Cuddy, Ron Herman and I had found several years ago. I had wanted to make sure the soldier buried there was not forgotten. Walking the area earlier, I couldn't find it. We searched for more than 30 minutes but to no avail. So we started moving back toward the cars, working section by section to make sure no veterans' graves had been missed. We drove back that direction before heading out for one more try. My daughter remembered a particular landmark. We spotted the simple marker some 75 feet away.
In the Civil War veterans section, near the Soldiers & Sailors Monument erected in 1890, is a this simple military headstone honoring a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Clinton Greeves fought in the so-called "Indian Wars" in the latter half of the 1800s. A "Buffalo Soldier," Sgt. Greaves was of the few black soldiers who went west to prove their worth to the U.S. government. His actions resulted in his being awarded the Medal of Honor. His grave stone is new, having been erected only a few years ago.
In my previous post, I mistakenly noted that this soldier also served in the Civil War. I am mistaken, and confused Sgt. Greaves with another combatant whose nearby monument reads of the various battles in which he participated. Sgt. Greaves was far too young to have served in the War Between the States, but his contributions are notable. But that wasn't always the case, at least not here.

For decades no one knew a Medal of Honor winner was buried at that particular site in the cemetery. In fact, his grave was not marked. Only through the efforts of a privately funded program started more than a decade ago to locate the grave of every veteran buried in Franklin County did anyone know Sgt. Greeves was buried at that location.

I was pleased to see that his grave was marked not only with an American flag, but also with a blue Medal of Honor recipient flag.

On the way home, we stopped at Union Cemetery in north Columbus to make sure a flag had been placed on my father's grave. He was an Army medic in the Pacific Theater, and took care of wounded boys during landings on Leyte Gulf and Okinawa. He lived to be 70 years old, and was one of the many who rarely talked about his wartime experiences.

While I policed the area to pick up sticks and pull some weeds, I noticed my daughter cleaning off another nearby veteran's grave. Now 14, she noticed several years ago that no one tends this one grave and she has taken it upon herself to take care of it. She was busy pulling grass away from the flat military stone, and cleaning off the words so that they can be read.

The next generation does get it . . . if you teach them.

A tiring day, to be sure. But sore feet, legs and back are nothing compared to the sacrifices these men and women gave while in uniform. During the next few days, please take the time to thank a veteran for their service. And if you see someone in uniform, don't be afraid to approach them and thank them, as well. What they do today enables us to sit back, with few cares in the world, and enjoy a holiday barbecue in peace and comfort.

Remember, the Memorial Day holiday is designed to honor them . . .


Anonymous said...

very moving. thank you for your write up mr. greer.

SAMMY said...

A wonderful narrative to an important weekend Brent. Thanks for sharing such great photos and your thoughts.