Volunteers place flags on the graves of veterans

A small group of volunteers has spent the past few days continuing a nearly century-old tradition in preparation for Memorial Day — placing U.S. flags on the graves of veterans buried in Jackson County.

Two of those volunteers, who also happen to be Vietnam War veterans, spent Thursday morning placing the small U.S. flags on the graves in parts of Riverview Cemetery. That cemetery, the county’s largest, is located on the north side of Seymour.

It’s not an easy job finding the graves of veterans, especially those from World War I and earlier because they have faded over time, but it’s important, Gary Anderson said. The 80-year-old Seymour man became commander of American Legion Post 89, which helps organize the annual effort, earlier this month after spending 15 years as the post’s vice commander.

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“It’s about taking care of the veterans,” he said. “They did this for us so we could put a flag on their grave. A lot of people don’t appreciate the fact that they died for us (and our freedoms), so we try to do this and anything else we can to keep their memories stuck in people’s minds.”

Odas Higginbotham joined Anderson for the morning because he believes it is an important job to honor the memory of those veterans who have passed away.

“I’ve been doing this for about five years now,” he said.

Higginbotham, the post commander before Anderson, was drafted and served in the Navy from 1972 to 1975 but never went overseas. His father served in World War II, and an uncle served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Anderson, who spent 65 years driving a truck, joined the U.S. Air Force and served from 1955 to 1963.

To make the job of placing flags on veterans’ graves across Riverview Cemetery easier, volunteers are assigned sections.

That allows them to go out and place the flags when they have the time, Anderson said. Volunteers from other veterans organizations place flags on the graves of veterans buried in other cemeteries in the city and county.

He said 5,000 flags were purchased to make sure there were enough to place on every grave.

Anderson said it gets harder and harder to find volunteers for the project each year because so many people have jobs and are busy.

Many younger veterans aren’t joining veterans organizations as they have in the past, and American Legion Post 89 has about 10 World War II veterans left, Anderson said.

He said the job does have a couple of perks, especially when the weather is nice as it was Thursday morning.

“It’s a good way to get some exercise, and it’s peaceful,” he said.

If the grave of a veteran doesn’t have a flag and the family would like the grave to have one, they may contact American Legion Post 89 in Seymour.

One of the earliest reports found of flags being placed on the graves of veterans before Memorial Day was in the May 26, 1922, edition of the Seymour Daily Tribune.