For more than 20 years, Anny Brooks has brought a handful of red, white and blue flowers to the grave of her husband, Charles, a Vietnam War veteran, for Memorial Day. She never thought twice about the small white crosses and American flags that marked the grave sites.
About 50 volunteers placed the decorations Saturday at Omaha's Mount Hope Cemetery.
Brooks was shocked to see them.
“I saw all of these people and thought 'Oh, my goodness,'” she said, tearing up. “I always thought the cemetery people put them up. It is such a blessing.”
Jerry Hodakowski, event organizer and a Vietnam War veteran, said it was the best turnout he has seen in 40 years.
“Memorial Day means dedication to all veterans, living and dead,” he said. “It's very interesting to get these young people involved. We have a great group here.”
It took two hours to stake 1,200 flags and 1,200 crosses on approximately 850 veterans' graves. The decorations will remain there until 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The volunteers included members of Benson's American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Boy Scouts and the Benson High Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
Zachary Kirchau, 12, of Troop 567 worked with his father, Gary, and Drew Merritt, 13, a fellow Boy Scout, to place the flags.
Using a thin metal tool, the boys made holes in the ground and then positioned the flags while Gary supervised.
“I'm a Navy veteran myself, and Zachary's grandpa fought in World War II,” Gary Kirchau said. “To have these kids, like my son, remember others is just a small token.”
Drew had one grandfather in World War II and the other in the Korean War.
Michael DeBolt, senior Army instructor at Benson High, brought 20 students. He said Memorial Day is about learning.
“We take one day to remember,” he said. “We try to make history come alive. Seeing the dates on these graves is a lesson you don't get in the classroom ... this is an actual person who served our country. You see these kids soaking it all in. That's how you know you're making a difference.”
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