Three years ago for a Masonic lodge service project, Phil Edwards decided to put flags on the graves of former military members in Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park, where he works part time.
Now it has become an annual ritual. Edwards said he, fellow Centennial Lodge 326 member Carl Diamond and Carl's wife, Carol, set out more than 4,000 of the flags between Wednesday and Friday.
How long the project takes depends on the number of other volunteers who show up. This year Boy Scouts and DeMolay members assisted. Friends and family also help out.
It's not an easy chore. There are 140 acres to cover.
They start with the Circle of Honor, where there's no question about who gets a flag. All the graves belong to veterans and their spouses. The oldest are from the Spanish-American War.
It's when they get out in the rest of the cemetery that it takes more time. They developed a list of graves from family members or records in recent years. But mostly they have to look for clues on the gravestones: wording that indicates it's a veteran's burial site or carvings such as crossed rifles, flags and VFW insignias. Some of the stones are worn and difficult to read.
Gravestones that are flat in the ground are even harder to distinguish because they can be obscured by grass, mud or leaves.
Edwards and Carl Diamond walk each row, stopping to clear off stones or make out details on older stones. Carol Diamond follows along, making a list of the graves by sections of the cemetery.
“That's the only way we have to find them, unless we hear from a family,” Edwards said. “And with the older graves, there may not be any family left to tell us.”
The cool, rainy weather this week wasn't kind to the trio, but Carol Diamond noted that the ground was soft, so they didn't have to poke holes in the ground in order to put the flags out.
After Memorial Day, the three will be out again, to reclaim the remaining flags for use again next year.