LAUREL COUNTY -- Members of the Keavy DAV and Troop 0572 of the Boy Scouts of London met at Keavy's Locust Grove Cemetery Friday afternoon to place American flags on the graves of veterans in honor of Memorial Day.
Charles Hayes, a veteran who served in the United States Air Force from 1972-1996, is a historian for the DAV. Hayes said the DAV has placed flags on the graves of fallen soldiers for more than 40 years. Locust Grove Cemetery has more than 430 veteran graves.
"There are veterans graves covering the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the current conflicts," Hayes said on Locust Grove Cemetery.
"It signifies respect for the veterans who have fallen," said Tommy Schneider, a member of Troop 0572. "In my mind, it also brings a little bit of joy to the families whose veterans are buried here that we are showing our respect to them."
"Without their sacrifice, we wouldn't be here," said Tommy's brother and fellow troop member, James Schneider. "So, to give them honor is a big duty for us."
James was also responsible for compiling an updated list of the soldiers buried at Locust Grove. The list will be used Sunday as each fallen veteran's name will be read aloud during a Memorial Day service at Locust Grove Church beginning at 2:30 p.m.
"There will be prayer, and then there will be an address to the public, some songs, someone will do the Star Spangled Banner," said Hayes on Sunday's service. "The names of all the varied veterans will be read. We will ask people that were related or felt kinship to them to stand when they are mentioned. There will be a 21-gun salute, followed by the playing of Taps."
Hayes said he felt it was important for young boys in the Boy Scouts to help plant flags as a way to teach them that others gave their lives to help protect their freedoms.
"To be a veteran means of course that you have served," said Hayes. "To serve was an honor and a privilege. It's a privilege also to honor those that went before and to honor their families. That's something that's overlooked. The whole thing is not just honoring departed veterans, but honoring the families that had to let them go."
Hayes says that he believes it is important to remember the parents of soldiers as they constantly worry about the health and safety of their son or daughter. He, like Tommy Schneider, said that planting flags at the grave of veteran not only honors them, but their family as well.
"That same honor needs to be sent, given, and recognized for the mothers whose sons did not come home," he said. "For the mothers who either cried, or tried to show that they were brave when their sons went to war, now sons and daughters."
"When it comes to families, we should honor them because sometimes they have to go through the loss of losing someone," James said. "So, if we go 'hey, I know your father, mother, brother, sister served, I would like to say thank you to them,' it kind of helps them knowing they did something good. It kind of helps with the burden of losing them."
Hayes and fellow DAV member L.G. Rose say they don't consider themselves heroes for their service.
"Now, I'll tell you a secret, I wasn't no hero," said Hayes. "I was scared to death. I was scared of bodily harm. I was scared of getting killed and crippled. But more than that, I was scared of my buddies knowing how scared I was. I was afraid of letting them down. That was my biggest fear, fear that they would know how afraid I was, the fear that I'd let them down."
"The ones who are the heroes are the ones who paid it all," said Rose. "Like us, we don't need or deserve to be called heroes. The ones that are laying up on these hills that lost it all in the war, they're the heroes."
"Every veteran who has passed on, whether they were killed in war or if they lived a long life afterwards, they never ever lived a day, I believe, without a little bit of that battlefield in their pocket," Hayes said. "The jungle came back with some of us. The desert comes back with some now."
In 1971, through an act of Congress, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday and was moved from its original date of May 30 to the last Monday in May.
While President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, the origins of Memorial Day are unconfirmed, with several cities claiming to be the birthplace.
What is known for certain, is that on May 5, 1868 the Grand Army Republic (GAR), a group of Union veterans from the Civil War, established May 30 as Decoration Day, a time for the nation to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.
During the first Decoration Day held at Arlington National Cemetery, General James Garfield delivered a speech honoring the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Then, the crowd of approximately 5,000 attendees decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.
It wasn't until after World War I that Memorial Day was expanded to include the honoring of veterans from all wars.