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