BROWNSTOWN — Nearly 300 students from Brownstown Central Middle School made their way to the town’s largest cemetery after lunch on Thursday to continue a tradition that started more than a decade ago.
Their mission — placing flags on the graves of the 800 or so veterans buried with the help of officers with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.
“My wife started this,” John Lawson said of the tradition of helping American Legion Post 112 place flags on veterans’ graves in the days before Memorial Day each year.
At that time, his wife, Susan, was a sixth grade teacher at the middle school, and sixth-graders were the only ones involved in the project organized by the Brownstown American Legion Post.
The post membership has declined significantly in recent years, Commander Forrest Bockover said, so they have had to recruit some help to place the flags on graves for Memorial Day.
John Lawson, who is a teacher at the middle school, said his wife later moved to a new position and he became a sixth grade teacher, so he took the project over. He has since become an eighth grade teacher, and the community service project has been expanded to seventh- and eighth-graders at the school.
“We just decided to include everyone,” John said. “Most of them enjoy it. I’ve never heard a kid complain. Once they do it and realize what it’s for, it’s a good thing. We talk to them about it.”
Sixth-grader Devyn Collins said he liked the idea of coming out and placing flags on graves and learning about the purpose of Memorial Day.
“And we get to learn about the people who went to war,” he said.
Lawson said officers with the sheriff’s department became involved in the effort in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was the only year students haven’t been involved because there were no in-person classes, just eLearning.
Bockover said he called Lt. Dustin Steward with the sheriff’s department that year.
“I told them there were only two people placing the flags this year,” he said.
So the department sent help.
The flags only remain on the graves for a few days because of issues with mowing grass. That means in a week or so, the Lawsons and anyone else they can recruit will return to the cemetery to remove the flags from graves. They will be returned to the American Legion for storage so they can be replaced before Memorial Day in 2024.