GERMANTOWN, Tenn. — Hundreds of Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Civil Air Patrol cadets, and family members placed more than 17,000 flags on the headstones at the West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery on Forest Hill Irene Road this morning.
The Eastern District of the local Chickasaw Council of the Boy Scouts of America organizes the event each year. Boys from one troop sort out damaged flags and make bundles at several meetings leading up to the event. Eagle Scout service projects conducted by boys in a number of units have completed a number of service projects benefitting the cemetery, including storage racks for the flags in a shipping storage containter. This year, one Eagle Scout project focused on installing new holders for the large casket flags displayed along the cemetery’s main drive.
At 8:00 a.m., Scouts and other participants gathered at the cemetery’s main pavilion near the entrance for a 30 minute ceremony. This year it included the singing of the national anthem led by local Girl Scouts.
By approximately 8:45 a.m., the Scouts and other participants moved to the cemetery’s circle drive where the more than 17,000 flags were laid out on tables by scouts from Troop 64 in Germantown. One of the more interesting things about the way this ceremony works is that no one is assigned a particular area. Volunteers simply start placing flags in front of the headstones. Amazingly, in about an hour, all the flags were placed. They are left up through next Tuesday.
Scout leaders say this event helps drive home the real meaning of Memorial Day to the youth who participate. The cemetery, which is owned and operated by the state of Tennessee on behalf of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, would not be able to provide this decoration without the time and efforts of local scouts. It was built because space was running out at Memphis’ National Cemetery off Jackson Ave. in north Memphis. A similar flag decorating event was held there on Saturday morning.
More than a thousand new graves are added each year to the West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery, including combat casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The cemetery will hold a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, and the flags will be removed and stored on Tuesday. They will be placed on headstones again in November on Veterans Day Weekend.