ESCANABA - While there are many ways to honor our fallen heroes, there are few that are as striking as the sea of American flags that mark the graves of veterans each Memorial Day.
"We try to get the word out about the brave men and women to make sure those sacrifices to make our country what it is are known," said former Marine Corps Sergeant Paul Walker of Manistique.
In Manistique and other cities and townships across the Upper Peninsula flags are placed by veterans, who are honoring their fallen comrades and those who served before them.
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Lloyd Lessard, a member of August Mattson American Legion Post 71 of Gladstone, places a flag at the gravesite of Army Cpl. August Mattson as veteran Phillip Petersen checks Mattson’s name off his list of veterans. The pair were among a number of volunteers who placed flags on the gravesites of all the veterans who are buried in Fernwood Cemetery of Gladstone on Friday morning.
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Army Cpl. August Mattson was the first soldier from Gladstone who was killed during World War I on May 27, 1918. Legion Post 71 is name in his honor.
"It's kind of a solemn moment for us," said Walker, adding the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts join forces to place the flags in Manistique's Fairview and Lakeview cemeteries on Armed Forces Day, which takes place on the third Saturday in May.
For some the practice has spread from a tribute handled by a small number of veterans to a much larger group of community members who may not have military ties at all.
"Everybody comes out. You can't believe the people who come out to put them out," said Gladstone American Legion Post 71 Chaplain Thure Dahlgren.
The many hands not only make light work of the task, but stand as a testament to the appreciation that average citizens have for the sacrifices of our nation's military.
"So many people show up that it's beautiful," said Dahlgren, adding that even though there are many veterans' graves in Gladstone's Fernwood Cemetery the process of placing the flags only takes an hour or two.
Some groups that aren't military affiliated, like the Escanaba Elks Lodge 354, have formally joined with veterans groups. For years the Lodge has teamed with American Legion Post 82 for the project.
"They're patriotic and that's just one of the things they they said, 'can we help you with it?'" said Bill LaMarch, a member of both the American Legion and the Elks, adding that between the Legionnaires, the Elks, the Boy Scouts, and the Vietnam Veterans Association all the cemeteries in Escanaba would be decorated with flags.
Young people are also getting involved in showing their appreciation for the sacrifices of America's veterans.
"It used to always be the old veterans of the American Legion doing it, and we said, 'why don't we get the young kids to go out and do it and show them what Memorial Day is all about,'" said Sally Majestic who, with her husband George, helps Cub Scout Pack 488 of Rapid River place flags.
This year marked the second year that the Cub Scouts placed the flags on graves in the Rapid River Cemetery. It took the Scouts a little more than an hour Tuesday evening to place the 280 flags provided by American Legion Post 301.
"Before (Cubmaster Joe Wilson) starts he explains what it means to be a veteran and that they should salute the graves and not just fly through putting flags out," said Majestic, adding that the boys were very respectful.