ASHLAND — Dozens of cadets placed thousands of American flags at the burial sites of military veterans within Rose Hill Burial Park Friday morning, providing each with a slow salute and considering themselves fortunate for the opportunity to be there.
The morning’s mission was particularly personal for four of the Russell High School Air Force ROTC students who sought the names of family members on the memorial stones.
Tabetha Adkins, a freshman at Russell High School, sobbed and was consoled by a friend as her frustration grew while trying to find the spot where her grandfather, Carl Edward Adkins, was buried last year.
“I was crying because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it,” she said as her friends continued to search for the name on a marker.
Adkins said she never had a chance to talk to her grandfather about his military service, although she appreciates the contributions he and so many others made for their country, as well as the service of today’s military personnel including her uncle Jason.
“I appreciate everything they’re doing for us because they are not doing it because they have to. They are doing it because they choose to do it,” Adkins said. A short while later Adkins tears were replaced by a smile and a sense of togetherness after she located her grandfather’s grave and was able to spend a few minutes there.
“I’m really happy I found him. It gave me peace,” she said. “I wanted to stay there and talk to him. It set my mind at ease.”
Freshman Jacob Staten was also pleased to find the final resting place of his great grandfather, Forrest Staten.
“We still talk about him. My grandfather talks about him especially,” Staten said, explaining he was able to find the grave without much trouble because he had been back to the cemetery “a few times” for family funerals.
“It was a wonderful feeling to know I was putting a flag on my great grandfather’s grave for Memorial Day,” he said.
ROTC instructor Col. Terry Maggard said the cadets Shane Murphy and Jessica Bowen each sought the graves of their grandfather’s, both veterans of World War II.
Maggard said 36 students took care of the morning’s effort to place 3,000 flags on graves at Rose Hill Cemetery, adding he was proud of their performance. While many of his students are considering military careers, Maggard said he is confident most have a strong appreciation for the nation’s veterans and active duty military because they’ve had many chances to hear from those who’ve served their country during the school’s annual Veteran’s Day observance.
“I believe they have a good understanding,” he said, citing a few of the veterans who’ve shared their personal experiences with the teens. “It is rewarding to watch them place each flag, stand at attention and then give that slow salute. It’s just outstanding.”
Russell students Tabi Potter, Laura Bloom and Derek Defibaugh each said they can understand why many veterans believe members of their generation are unaware of the sacrifices made on their behalf, although they each have a deep appreciation of those who have served. Each of the young ladies had a relative who served in World War II, although those men said little about their service.
“I had a great uncle who was in World War II and I didn’t even know it until he died,” Bloom said, explaining her uncle served as a medic and felt he did little to contribute to the nation’s war effort, even after he received a call from a woman who thanked him for saving her husband’s life on the battlefield. I didn’t know he got a Purple Heart until after he died.”
Defibaugh, who plans to join the U.S. Marines, said military service is a proud tradition in his family, and possibly his best source for understanding the sacrifices of America’s veterans.
“Kids today know what they’ve seen in the movies or read in textbooks ... unless you’ve been in war you don’t know what it is like,” he said. “My dad lost a leg in Vietnam and my uncle was an Army sniper who just returned from Iraq.”
Jesse Rogers, 21, is a member of the 396th Engineer Company based in Boyd County who is working as a grave digger and maintenance worker at Rose Hill Cemetery. Standing near the edge of the burial place of PFC. Scott A. Messer, Rogers said placing flags on the graves of veterans is one of the more enjoyable parts of his work. Rogers, who placed flags at graves along with his co-workers Jeffrey Mayes and Mark Copley, said he always pauses to read the dates on the stones marking veterans’ graves.
“The first thing I do every time I go by and see U.S. Army or U.S. Navy is check out the dates and see how long they lived,” he said, pausing before adding his next thought is often “I’m older than this guy.”