Saturday, May 26, 2001

Vets' graves get 'flagged'

Tradition continues this year

By Amanda York
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Jim Black (center), sales manager of Floral Hills Cemetery in Taylor Mill, shows Bryan Meade (left) and Rex Graft the area reserved for veterans.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        COVINGTON — If Rex Graft could, on Monday he would be in Washington D.C., visiting the graves of his father, mother and brother in Arlington National Cemetery.

        Row upon row of white military headstones would stare back at him, each with a small flag planted in front of it.

        “It is quite an amazing sight,” said Mr. Graft, who grew up near Washington and would often visit the cemetery.

        For three years, Mr. Graft, who now lives in Hebron, has done his part to make veterans' graves in Northern Kentucky resemble those in Arlington. Mr. Graft, along with other members of the Sons of The American Legion, spend Memorial Day planting flags on the graves of veterans.

        Last Memorial Day the organization, with the help of 98 volunteers, decorated more than 5,100 veterans' graves in five Kenton County cemeteries: Saint Mary's, Highland, Mother of God, Saint John's and Linden Grove. This year the Floral Hills and Forest Lawn cemeteries have been added.

        The addition of these two cemeteries has nearly doubled the amount of graves that need to be decorated, said Bryan Meade, the vice commander of Squadron 203 in Latonia. Mr. Meade said the group did not raise the money they had hoped to raise and won't have enough flags for all the graves.

        He estimates they are probably short about 1,500 flags this year. Mr. Meade said the group tries to go back and collect the flags they use, and are usually able to get 70 percent of the flags from each year's project.

        But the growing number of graves and lack of funding has made that difficult. The number of veterans' graves, especially those of World War II veterans, has grown tremendously. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that WWII veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 a day.

        The Sons of The American Legion, a program of The American Legion, was established in 1932 in Portland, Ore. Members must be able to prove through their heritage or bloodline that their fathers or grandfathers served in the wars.

    To make a donation to the Sons of the American Legion, mail checks to:
  Sons of the American Legion
  Latonia Squadron 203
  P.O. Box 15274
  Covington, KY 41014-0274
    If you would like to help with today's grave decorating, be at the SAL post on Winston Avenue in Latonia by 9 a.m. If you are interested in participating in next year's grave decorating, send a letter to the above address.
        That's something that comes easy to both Mr. Meade and Mr. Graft. Mr. Meade's grandfather, Guy Meade, served in the Pacific during World War II.

        Mr. Graft's father, Charles Graft Jr., was a lieutenant colonel in the army. He served during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.

        Mr. Graft, who is the youngest of eight children - six of whom are in the military - said that while growing up, his family didn't really celebrate Memorial Day. For them, he said, it was just a “day that we put out the flag on the front of the house.”

        Now at the age of 34, the holiday means much more to him. Through decorating the graves of Northern Kentucky veterans, Mr. Graft said he feels “more connected” to his father as well as the thousands of others who served in the military.

        Including his brother Joe, who served in the military. He died in a private helicopter crash in 1969. His brother and father are buried in the same section of Arlington.

        Even though he won't be in Washington D.C. on Monday, he said he will think of his family, as well as other veterans, when he plants the small American flags on the graves of Northern Kentucky veterans.

        And then, as a member of the SAL, he will raise his right hand to his forehead and firmly salute each and every one of them.
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