The veterans of Frank Roach American Legion Post 34 make it a point to mark the graves of Rock Hill’s war dead every year so each headstone will sport an American flag by Memorial Day. But as America’s veteran population ages, the task of reaching the hundreds of graves involved becomes more and more of a challenge.
“Some of our members are hobbling,” said Post Commander Craig Charlton, himself a veteran of the Vietnam era.
So, on Sunday, the Legion got a little help from the Cub Scouts of Pack 925, who fanned out around Laurelwood Cemetery to assist the post members and other volunteers in completing the mission.
“The young legs took the wide perimeter, and the old legs took the inside,” Charlton said.
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About 15 youngsters between the first and fifth grades, including Scouts and their siblings, took on the challenge. Cubmaster Karl Wichmann thought of it as an opportunity to get his boys involved in a public service project while also learning something about the sacrifices other Americans have made for them.
“I called about a month ago about having the boys do something with the Legion post,” Wichmann said. “They welcomed the help. The kids were bouncing around this place.”
In total, the group placed around 800 flags across three area cemeteries, honoring servicemen and women from as long ago as the Civil War and as contemporary as America’s more recent conflicts in the Middle East. Charlton noted one of the more recent vets interred in Laurelwood is Army Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Leach, who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2004.
Post 34 provides the flags for graves in Laurelwood, the Bass-Cauthen cemetery on Heckle Boulevard and Barber Memorial Cemetery off of West Main Street. Each year, they put the flags out a week ahead of Memorial Day, and then collect them a week later.
Other area organizations provide similar honors for veterans on Memorial Day. The Rock Hill chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars will plant flags elsewhere around town later this week.
The late May holiday holds meaning for the vets beyond their own service. Post member Jeff Erieau is a veteran and the son of a veteran. His father served during World War II and had his own special connection to the day that honors America’s fallen.
“My father was born on Memorial Day, and then he died on Memorial Day, 85 years later,” Erieau said.
The members trudging through Laurelwood on Sunday said the post needs newer blood to keep it active.
“All the World War I guys are gone now, and this winter it seems like we did a lot of services for World War II vets,” said Tom Bates.
Meanwhile, veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are fewer in number than those from past conflicts, and haven’t flocked to join the Legion.
“They’re still raising their families and trying to adjust,” Bates said.
Until then, the older vets appreciate the help from the young Scouts. Likewise, Wichmann appreciates the chance for the younger volunteers to learn something from the older ones and the ones already gone.
“It’s like a history lesson for them,” he said. “They get to see all the different conflicts right here.”
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062