Flags placed on graves remembering veterans for Memorial Day


Some of the headstones were faded. Some were covered with moss.

Undeterred, volunteers pursued their search in the hope of placing an American flag on the gravesite of every veteran at Riverview Cemetery in Seymour.

Memorial Day 2021 is Monday, and while some may associate it more with a day off from work or school or a chance to grill, that is not the meaning of the day. It is a national holiday set aside to honor and remember the dead.

On a slightly foggy and somewhat damp Thursday morning, members of Seymour American Legion Post 89 organized efforts to distribute small flags to mark graves of veterans whose service dates back to the Civil War.


That morning, a radio station asked listeners to call in to discuss side dishes, potato salad, coleslaw, whatever, as essential or forbidden from their special meal.

Begun as an observance called Decoration Day following the Civil War, Memorial Day has only been a full-fledged federal holiday everywhere since 1971. While family get-togethers may be a part of the program at many homes, eating is not the point of the occasion.

“For me, Memorial Day is about those that paid the ultimate price,” not the menu, said Gary Dyer, 73, who served in Vietnam. “I saw men terribly hurt. That’s what I think about.”

Riverview spans about 50 acres with 18,400 individuals buried there. The number of veterans is not known precisely, but Seymour’s Margaret Wilson spent three months walking the grounds attempting to catalogue them. On Thursday, she brought along a 43-page list with roughly 25 to 28 names per page to the flag planting. That would account for approximately 1,100 veterans.

The Legion carted a truckload of flags to the cemetery. Wilson, who spent 27 years in the service, active and  reserves, was wearing a red, white and blue straw hat. She also transported a wagonload of bundled flags to spread around.

“I’ve got eight family members buried on veterans row,” Wilson, 57, said. “It means a lot to the family.”

Taking responsibility to demonstrate veterans are not forgotten is something later generations of veterans have engaged in for many years. Wilson said she first placed flags on graves at a cemetery when she was 7.

“They gave their lives for our country,” Wilson said. “They deserve our respect.”

Some of those buried at Riverview served and lived long lives. Some died during wars that helped shape the country. One grave marker indicated David S. Reed served in the Civil War, and Wilson inserted a flag in the ground next to the headstone.

Cemeteries are resting places forever, but there are no guarantees the story of lives succinctly stenciled on the stones will be readable forever. The name of a war served cannot be read in all cases, as is the situation for rank, date of birth and date of death.

Dyer, who walked up and down hilly, grassy slopes placing flags, came across one stone he just couldn’t decipher. He had a handful of flags rolled in his hand but decided not to place one because he just couldn’t be sure the grave truly belonged to a veteran.

“I wish I could read it,” Dyer said. “I can’t tell if he’s a veteran or not. That’s sad.”

Another stone received a flag, though the lettering was barely discernible. Dyer thought he could make out “9 Ind Cav,” or 9th Indiana Cavalry, if not a name.

“Bless him, Lord,” Dyer said.

Dyer threaded his way up and down rows of graves, nodding toward his eventual destination.

“My daddy is over there,” he said of Bill Dyer.

Daddy Dyer’s stone said he was born March 29, 1927, and died July 29, 2006. The younger Dyer said his father was a fun-loving man who was a Marine. He enjoyed golf but wasn’t exactly Phil Mickelson-serious about the game and not adverse to keeping a pint in his bag. Gary wanted the couple-foot-tall statue of a golfer to be a soldier, but a sister beat him to the placement.

The grave featured a couple of dirtier, been-there-a-while flags, and Gary added a fresh one to the mix.

“I was out here every day when he passed and talked to him,” Dyer said.

Gary Anderson, 83, outgoing commander at the Legion post, which currently has 800-plus members, served in the Air Force from 1955 to 1963 as a civil engineer.

For him, flag placing on veterans’ graves is both personal and an act of self-identification with other servicemen.

“I’ve got five brothers buried on the back side,” Anderson said.

Although only a handful or so of volunteers appeared to install the flags, the gesture means a lot to families, he said.

“If we don’t do it, we have a lot of calls,” Anderson said.

U.S. government statistics separate combat casualties, the dead and wounded, but the older the war, sometimes the vaguer the estimates. Dyer said he used to keep the numbers of American soldier deaths in his head by war, but he can’t recall all of the numbers now.

“They made the ultimate sacrifice,” Anderson said.

One estimate puts the number of all American deaths in the Civil War at 655,000, in World War I at 116,500, World War II at 405,400, the Korean War at 36,500 and the Vietnam War at 58,200. The old men of the veterans’ core are more likely to be Korean War soldiers now since World War II ended in 1945.

“We’re running out of World War II guys,” Dyer said.

Two Dyer sons, Justin and Jeremiah, joined the Army and served in Iraq. Dyer had three older uncles, one each in the Army, Navy and Marines.

“Uncle Albert was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge,” he said. “I was wounded in ’67. Not real bad.”

Dyer took some shrapnel in the back of his left shoulder in Vietnam.

Some volunteers planned their presence at the cemetery well in advance. Mayor Matt Nicholson rose Thursday, saw a Facebook message announcing the event, checked his schedule and drove to Riverview.

“It was spur of the moment,” Nicholson said as he walked through rows of graves and planted flags. “I thought it would be good to help.”

He read the tombstones and picked out the veterans. One site grabbed him. Harry Leslie was a veteran who died in 1918. At the bottom of the marker it read, “Killed in Action.” That indicated the soldier died in World War I.

“That was the one that hit home to me,” Nicholson said.

Scott Sandlin wanted all of the graves and the seriousness of the task to hit home to his young sons, Liam, 7, and Collin, 6. They had finished school the previous day, so they were available on what otherwise would have been a class day.

Sandlin, 50, a Veterans of Foreign Wars post official, has long been a participant in placing flags. When he was a Boy Scout, he said, “They used to give you 300 flags in a backpack and a bottle of water” when the organizers sent the young people trekking through the graves.

Sandlin wanted his sons indoctrinated young, to absorb the golden rule of respecting veterans who served their country.

“First time for them, regular for me,” he said. “It’s difficult to instill unless you experience it.”

By spending the morning together at the ceremony, Sandlin was stressing the importance of the task. He is an Army veteran and said there have been Sandlins in American uniforms since the Civil War, one of them a sergeant who won the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I, he said.

Speaking of the dead and buried at Riverview, keeping in mind those who did not return from wars fighting for American freedom, Sandlin said, “Some of us are lucky enough to be here today and some can’t be.”

For those who gave their time for the flags to wave in the slight breeze, Memorial Day is definitely about more than barbecue, potato salad and coleslaw.

“It’s a connection with the past,” Sandlin said of living veterans honoring deceased vets. “I hope somebody does the same for me someday.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Jackson County Memorial Day events

1 p.m. Sunday at Fairview Cemetery, 610 N. High St., Brownstown. Doug Pogue, associate minister at Brownstown Christian Church, will be the speaker for the service, which is open to the public.

11 a.m. Monday at Riverview Cemetery, 1603 Shields Ave., Seymour. Open to the public.

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at the Medora Brick Plant, 8202 E. County Road 425S, Medora. Medora Brick Plant and Historical Sites Inc.’s annual Memorial Day celebration will feature complimentary hot dogs, chips and drinks. The public is invited, and a special invitation is extended to the families and friends of the former brick plant employees.


No posts to display