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Before the Memorial Day parades and picnics, volunteers walk with respect and reverence through acres of cemeteries, maps in hand.
Matching names on paper to those etched on tombstones, they place American flags on graves of veterans, some 50,000 in Lucas County alone.
Although the number of veteran volunteers has dwindled and the number of deceased veterans has increased, the annual Stars and Stripes campaign continues as a solemn salute to men and women who served their country and protected its freedom.
Today, in an area designated as Veterans' Row at Toledo Memorial Park along Monroe Street in Sylvania, the last of nearly 12,000 flags will be placed, said Army veteran Jim Lyell of Toledo, who coordinates volunteers who fan out to post flags in the largest cemetery in Lucas County.
Donald Reed S Sgt U.S. Army WW II 1907-1991
Wearing white gloves as a sign of respect for the American flag, Marine Corps veteran Izzy Ortiz of West Toledo works with several other volunteers, including business people who took the day off work, to place flags on nearly 600 graves. Toledoans Tim Stockinger, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, said, "it's an honor" to help, and Brian Cahill, who served in Afghanistan, said, "It shows my respect to my fellow veterans."
George E. Elliott US Navy Dec 9 1887 Oct 18 1942
Leverett Hobbs of Toledo, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, said it is a privilege for him to participate in the flag placement. "I come out to respect and honor the fallen soldiers and my fellow veterans who have passed away after serving in their respective wars."
It's a long day for the volunteers, and yesterday, it was hot with the mid-day sun beating down.
"We don't leave here until everybody has been honored," said Mr. Ortiz, who has placed flags just ahead of Memorial Day for 21 years.
Corp. Darrel A. Diehn 1923 1945 383rd Bomber Group Squad 876
Red, white, and blue. Wave after wave, row upon row. A sea of flags, fluttering in the breeze, tugging at emotions.
At age 82, Don Horton of Toledo is one of the oldest volunteers.
A World War II veteran, he drives a cart carrying boxes of flags for his crew. When asked about his involvement in the annual activity, he blinks back tears and turns away. He takes a moment to find his voice. "I do this because it has to be done to remember the guys who went before me, I guess."
In Wood County, volunteers will decorate 12,600 graves in 42 cemeteries, said Mary Hanna, executive director of the Wood County Veterans Assistance Center in Bowling Green.
The nation, she said, must continue to properly pay its respects to its veterans and acknowledge families of veterans. "It's the deepest gratitude we can pay."
Norma C. Wines SP3 US Navy World War II Jun 28 1923 Mar 26 1988
Traditions must be passed down through generations, Ms. Hanna said, to show young people "the importance of honoring those who have served their country, not just while they are living, but in memorial activities too," such as decorating graves and attending Memorial Day parades.
Lee Armstrong, executive director of the Lucas County Veterans Service Commission, said volunteers go plot by plot as they place the flags. "It's a very tedious process." And time-consuming, considering 50,000 flags at a cost of $19,500 were ordered this year for the Lucas County graves.
Flag-placement volunteers include veterans, relatives of veterans, and members of organizations such as the Boy Scouts.
Unfortunately, Mr. Armstrong said, "a large number of World War II veterans is passing on and with them, a large number of volunteers is passing on. We have to solicit outside support."
Fred Hibbert of Toledo, who served in Korea, tries each year to work in the same area of Toledo Memorial because he's familiar with the grave locations and the veterans' names. But there are always new graves. "Guys die, and of course that is one more in the cemetery and not one more in the volunteers," Mr. Hibbert said.
Richard D. Flamand Sgt US Marine Corps Korea Jun 14 1929 Mar 4 1984
Helping to place flags yesterday were students in American history and World War II classes at Whitmer High School. "Veterans put their lives on the line so there is no reason not to be out here to honor them for everything they did for me," Josh Rymer, 17, said.
As he placed flags yesterday, Navy veteran Jerry Newman of Sylvania scraped back overgrown grass, shaking his head at the neglect of some grave markers.
Henry C. Carsner, WW II army pilot, 1909-1983.
"We're out here to honor the veterans," he said. "Someone has to remember them. Someone has to honor them."
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