WILLIAMSBURG— On the Friday before Memorial Day for the last fifteen years, staff at Cedar Grove Cemetery along with a small group of volunteers, would gather and spend several hours planting more than 500 American flags on Veterans’ plots. The number of volunteers has always would fluctuate from year to year, sometimes getting as low as two or three. However, more than expected turned out for this year’s flag laying.
“In years past we would start around eight or nine and maybe get done in the early afternoon,” Rodney Corwin of the Patrick Henry Chapter of the Disabled Veterans of America (DAV) said. “Over the years we’ve been out here in the heat, cold and rain. It never made a difference, it had to be done.”
This year, on a humid, hot morning in late May, the event organizers were astounded when more than 100 volunteers plus a detachment of several dozen sailors from the Navy Cargo Handling Battalion ONE (NCHB-1), stationed at Cheatham Annex, gathered at the cemetery flagpole.
Also present were officials from the Williamsburg Police Department, Fire Department, and the James City County Sheriffs Office were all present. As were various civic clubs including Rotary Club of James City County’s Satellite Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as several Boy and Girl Scout troops.
As the predetermined starting time rolled around, parking along the cemetery streets became harder to come by. Then, promptly at 9 a.m., with the naval contingent standing tall in formation at the flagpole and the crowd of volunteers gathered around, the cemetery caretaker, Bill Brown, addressed the crowd.
Using a makeshift bullhorn he had fashioned from a piece of cardboard he welcomed them and introduced himself and the groups on hand.
“I’ve been doing this for 16 years and we have never had this kind of turnout,” he said. “The first year we did this, we had four volunteers, but this is overwhelming.”
Since the beginning, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization has provided the flags with its members came out to plant them. However, over years as the club’s membership continued to age, it became more difficult to staff these kinds of events.
In 2018 the Veterans turned to the Satellite Club for help.
“They reached out to us for assistance with the flags,” Rotarian and Air Force Veteran Neva Lynd said. “We said, ‘don’t you worry. We’ll be there to support you.’”
After a flag raising ceremony and a brief convocation, Brown quickly began to divide up his army of volunteers and give them instructions on how to go about their task.
Cedar Grove was established in 1859 and, over the last 162 years, has added approximately 4900-5000 plots over 20 acres.
Brown explained to the volunteers what to look for on the markers that would indicate that a veteran was interred there and where in relation to it to place the flag. What used to take a small handful of determined do-gooders all morning in to accomplish, was completed in less than 45-minutes.
“This is so cool. It used to be that you could get a full group shot of the volunteers by just standing on the back of a truck,” beamed Aundrea Holiday, a senior police officer for the City of Williamsburg.
Holiday has been attending this event for several years and has never seen anywhere close to this kind of crowd.
She said, “Now, to see all these people coming to honor the nation’s Veterans. It just warms my heart.”
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