On their final full day of school for the year, nearly 40 Russell High School students decided they could best spend their time placing American flags upon the graves of local veterans buried at Rose Hill Cemetery.
The students, 39 cadets from the schools Air Force JROTC program, were greeted by a beautiful morning with sunny skies and a light breeze, which made each small flag snap to attention as the teams of two and three made a hole, planted a flag and stepped back before issuing a slow and respectful salute.
Sophomores Laney Blevins, Bradley Scurlock and Samuel Roberts were among those who teamed up to get as many flags as possible on veteran’s final resting places Wednesday morning.
“We really haven’t kept count but I know we’ve planted a lot of flags,” Blevins said, affirming she felt a sense of purpose from the morning’s mission. “We’re just here to honor these thousands and millions of veterans. It is an honor just to honor them.”
Freshman Marilyn Wessel said the density of veterans buried at Rose Hill was surprising.
“I expected a couple of them here and a couple of them there, but it is more like probably every third one of them,” she said, later noting she was proud to be part of the student team planting 3,000 flags that morning and that her own father served in the Army as a chaplain’s assistant.
Cadets Ashley Stevens and Ashley Carey said the morning mission was bitter and sweet. Shortly after arriving, the girls said they noticed a couple of older ladies crying at a grave, although the effort to salute veterans made them both ready to volunteer for the task again next year.
“It’s a neat experience. It’s kind of like helping out the community,” Stevens said.
Cadet C.J. Martin, who will serve as commander of the AFJROTC at Russell High School next year, recalled helping with the flag planting during his freshman year and added he was pleased to see high school students doing the labor-intensive job rather than leaving it to older veterans who often face health problems.
“We can do all of it in two-and-a-half hours. I did this my freshman year and realized some of the veterans can barely walk,” Martin said, adding his own regret that the veterans buried at Rose Hill only get a few hours of attention.
“All of these veterans deserve more than that,” he said. “If not for all of these vets, we would be speaking Japanese or Korean ... or German. We wouldn’t be speaking American.”
Col. Terry Maggard said he received a call from an Amvets representative seeking assistance with the flag planting and received immediate approval from the school’s principal, as well as authorization to use a school bus. There were more volunteers for the duty than he expected, Maggard said.
“I could not bring everybody that wanted to come. I am just very proud of these students who were willing to give up their last full day at school to do this,” he said. “They gladly gave up their time.”
Maggard said the AFJROTC cadets, who recently received a Distinguished Unit citation, which puts them in the top 25 percent of 867 schools, would likely finish flag planting in time to return to school for lunch that day.
“There’s no joking around while they do this,” he said, adding several of the students probably have relatives who were veterans buried within the cemetery.
Mike Wurts, an Army veteran who served from 1972 to 1975 and is now a member of the Amvets Post 95 in Greenup, said he had previously placed each of the flags himself but it was difficult and required a couple of days to complete. Watching the dozens of young cadets hustling from grave to grave, Wurts said he could not help being proud of them.
“That’s patriotism in action,” he said. “One of these days they will be putting a flag on my grave.”
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.