Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and SHHS JROTC cadets gathered at the Veterans National Cemetery Saturday afternoon to place flags on the graves for the annual flag ceremony. (All photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
The gazebo area of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home was overrun by Scouts on Saturday afternoon, as those gathered from the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and American Heritage Girls waited patiently for the go-ahead to march to the U.S. National Cemetery to honor veterans in an annual Memorial Day weekend ceremony.
Lining the fence line once they reached the cemetery, Scouts fell silent as bagpipers played “Amazing Grace” and taps before gunshots sounded over the grounds during a 21-gun salute.
At the sound of a whistle, the Scouts walked carefully and quietly to individual graves, pushing flags into the ground and saluting each one in honor of the fallen veteran.
The locally observed event and Boy Scouts of America tradition across the country for many years was what Caleb Strickler, 12, with Boy Scout Troop 135 of Sulphur Springs, referred to as a “very solemn, but ... honorable time.”
“We’re placing flags to honor the veterans that have served in the wars and I think this is my fifth year doing it,” he said. “We’re given 40 (flags) apiece, but we put out as many as we can get. You can see all the different people that have served and won for your country.”
Strickler’s mother, Beth Strickler, who was standing close by watching as her son and his scouting friends carefully placed the flags, said the Scouts take the ceremonial event seriously.
“It’s precious to watch the boys because they take it very seriously and I believe they really understand what they’re here doing,” she said. “Even the little (Tiger Scouts) ... to watch them salute these people who served before them, it brings me to tears every year watching them.”
Ashley Patterson, 10, a member of the American Heritage Girls, was walking around with her friends, Mikayla Hull, 10, and Hallie Ross, 8, to find graves not yet marked to place their flags.
Patterson said she enjoyed participating in Saturday’s event and said she thinks “that all of our veterans deserve this respect, and it’s just a great way to show ... how we appreciate our country.”
Patterson’s mother, Jennifer Patterson, said their family has many past and present members of the military, including her husband, who is in the National Guard.
“My husband’s been deployed twice and my children have lived through that, so they have an understanding that a lot of people don’t,” she said. “This is just a really good opportunity to get out there and really talk about what Memorial Day is about. I think that it’s just a really good way to kind of bring home how important and how real the sacrifices that our men and women in the armed forces make.”
Ralph Moats, one of the unit commissioners with the Boys Scouts of America Buffalo Mountain District, said Scouts learn early on through achievement of their citizenship award the importance of respecting those who fought for their country.
“Citizenship is one of the things that we teach and one of our principles is respect for our country, respect for the military,” he said.
Moats said the placement of flags in the cemetery each year shows “the American people the gratitude that the Boy Scouts of America have for those who have fallen, and also we’re honored to be given the opportunity to place these flags on these graves all over the country.”