Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Red Cross Volunteers Honor Memorial Day, One Small Flag at a Time

IMG_0001DFW National CemeteryThe Flag at DFW National CemeteryIMG_0018Group of Red Cross volunteers and family of Larry Dee Finklea (buried in the National Cemetary) ready to place flags on the graves at the DFW National Cemetery.IMG_0029
IMG_0030IMG_0031Red Cross volunteers place flags on the graves at the DFW National Cemetery.IMG_0033IMG_0036IMG_0037

Story written by Kay Pinkerton, volunteer contributor

In honor of Memorial Day, American Red Cross volunteers assembled with more than 1,000 others to place almost 30,000 American flags on graves inside the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.

The second annual flag-placing event was organized by Flags for Fallen Vets president and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Bob Fussner.

By early afternoon, gravesites carpeting the gently rolling landscape were accompanied by thousands upon thousands of small American flags, placed in precision in front of each headstone. The vision made a beautifully powerful statement for the day of remembrance.

The American Red Cross Flag-Planting Team
Armed with screwdrivers and cordless drills, Red Crossers teamed together to plant hundreds of flags in their assigned section of the cemetery. The team effort continued Red Cross’ long tradition of serving members of the U.S. military through programs such as Service to the Armed Forces (SAF).

Red Cross volunteer and Flags for Fallen Vets team leader Jimmy Talley was impressed by this year’s much-improved logistics.

“Last year was kind of chaotic,” he said with a grin. “It was the first event, though, so everyone understood.”

Texas’ blast-furnace temps didn’t help.

“It was hot and dry,” said Red Cross long-time volunteer Eva Griffith. “We brought hammers and screwdrivers to make holes for the flags. But the ground was so hard, it bent the screwdrivers!”

In spite of the challenges, Griffith and her husband, Will, enjoyed the experience.

“I would say the veteran’s name as I decorated a gravestone,” said Griffith. “A little boy who was helping his mother place flags on graves nearby, asked, ‘Why is she saying their names?’ His mother told him about the sacrifices of the veterans interred at the cemetery. It was so cool to see that little boy helping.”

As the couple completed the job and were leaving the cemetery, Griffith was moved by the sight.

“The flags were like a coordinated march,” she said. “Thousands of flags flying in the same direct ion. It was beautiful .”

Joining this year’s Red Cross team was Jane Cooley, her children, Cheyenne and Lakota Finklea, and a family friend. Jane’s husband, Larry Dee Finklea, was a U.S. Army soldier during the Vietnam War. He died at 55 of natural causes and is now buried in Section 13 of the cemetery. While Red Crossers planted flags on neighboring gravestones, Cooley and her children personally placed a flag on her husband’s grave.

Flags for Fallen Vets
Bob Fussner and his Cleburne, Texas neighbor, Navy veteran James Fox, co-founded Flags for Fallen Vets in 2012. Through the non-profit organization, Fussner envisions honoring veterans interred in every national cemetery that does not currently place American flags at gravesites.

Despite the first year’s logistical headaches, Flags for Fallen Vets received overwhelming support and, this year, expanded to the Houston National Cemetery. There, Foster and his team of volunteers planted American flags on more than 80,000 graves. Next year, he plans to take the organization to Florida National Cemetery, where more than 100,000 veterans are interred.

Count on the American Red Cross to be there.

To learn more about the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces department, visit us online at redcross.org.

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