More than 70 volunteers braved the rain on Friday to plant American flags at thousands of headstones and markers at Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery.
The rain started coming down hard just after friends, families, Scouts and active duty service men and women started going through the rows of graves, but they were not deterred.
“It’s not bad,” said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Monica Celaya. “Everybody was in good spirits, so it didn’t bother us.”
Parents and members of American Heritage Girls Troop VA1412 walked among the headstones with flags in hand. Some of them left coins on the markers, each with a distinct meaning. Pennies mean that someone has simply visited a grave, nickels show that the person trained with the deceased in boot camp and dimes signify shared service.
The girls placed their pennies, then their flags, and then prayed for those that served.
“Community service is very important, and teaching our girls to honor our veterans is very important,” said troop advancement coordinator Stacey Brown.
This was yet another combined effort between Ruritan clubs, VFW posts and the cemetery. The Bethlehem, Suffolk, Cypress, King’s Fork and Magnolia Ruritan clubs helped fundraise for the flags alongside American Legion Posts 88 and 57.
The tradition began in 2005, shortly after Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery had its grand opening the year before. Bethlehem Ruritan Club member and retired U.S. Air Force technical sergeant Jesse Pruden recalled first discussing the idea with Cemeteries Director Dan Kemano, ultimately purchasing 47 flags for Memorial Day in 2005.
That number has grown to roughly 8,000 flags across the cemetery.
“We just saw the numbers grow, grow, grow,” Pruden said.
More burials mean more flags. There are more than 8,600 grave sites at the cemetery, which includes the 1,200-plus burials that happened last year. That accounts for roughly 11,600 families at the cemetery, including the spouses that are often buried in the same grave sites.
For Pruden, it’s about supporting friends and fellow soldiers.
“I’m supporting my friends out here who’ve already passed on,” he said.