‘What does Memorial Day mean to you?’

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Volunteers place American flags on the graves of veterans at the Cullman City Cemetery Thursday, ahead of Memorial Day Weekend. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Members of Cullman’s Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2214 – as well as civilian volunteers, including 30 fifth graders from Vinemont Elementary School – set out American flags at the graves of veterans in Cullman City Cemetery Thursday, ahead of Memorial Day Weekend, and VFW members themselves set out larger flags along the median of U.S. Highway 31 through Cullman Friday.

During these events, The Tribune talked to veterans and volunteers alike and asked them, “What does Memorial Day mean to you?”

VFW Post Commander Will Harris answered, “To me, it’s just a community’s recognition that there are folks within their midst that have made the ultimate sacrifice for their freedom. It’s gratifying to me to see this many volunteers to come out to give us a hand with this.

“We have found over time that Cullman is a very patriotic town – or I guess it’s a city now – and I think that that’s what it means to everybody. Just taking this moment, these couple of hours to honor the folks who gave it all for us.”

A retired Air Force veteran, whose family military history stretches all the way back to the Spanish-American War, offered his thoughts as well, saying, “I served from ’64 to ’85 in the Air Force, went to Libya and Turkey, Germany and Spain. Got a brother who was in the Navy during Vietnam, and a few of (my wife) Mary’s brothers were in Vietnam. It’s a very important day to remember and honor all of them and everyone else, especially those who didn’t make it back, and I’m glad to see this many people out.”

A pair of volunteers from the City Cemetery stated that they felt the day was all about remembering where our freedom comes from and to not take it for granted.

“It’s like trying to give God the thanks for all that He does – you just can’t give them (the service members) enough thanks,” one said. “You go to other countries and see that they’re not free, with all the turmoil and the way everything is.”

His friend replied, “To me, it’s about honoring all our service members – veteran, current, fallen – regardless of whether they served in battle or not, because without them, we wouldn’t have all the freedoms that we enjoy now.”

A combat medic from Desert Storm answered, “You know, I don’t really have anything new or different to say. Memorial Day is just that – a memorial in honor of all those who came before us or didn’t come back. It’s also a great display of good old American patriotism.”

Army Staff Sgt. Brian Monk, an Iraq War veteran and quartermaster of the VFW, shared, “Every year, we come out here and put flags up on the fallen soldiers’ graves to remember them and their sacrifices that they made, so that we can do what we do, day to day.  I mean, it means so much. I get to go outside and play with my kids.  My kids get to go outside and play because of even the things that I did.  Being able to come here and remember them- some of these have been forgotten for so long, so that’s a big thing.”

Monk reported that planning for the flag placing events starts about a month in advance with efforts to secure flags and recruit help.  More than 50 volunteers from the VFW, American Legion, Boy Scouts, church groups and others came out to help at the cemetery.

While The Tribune was at the City Cemetery, a group of 30 fifth graders from Vinemont Elementary School was onsite, helping place flags.  

We asked teacher Sandra Sandlin what led her to bring her kids out, and she told us:

“I want to honor our veterans any time we can.  They’re very important to our community and our country as a whole, and our children need to learn that.  That seems like that’s something that’s not taught very much anymore, and I want to make sure, on my part, that it is.”

Before we parted company, Monk said, “Freedom is a big thing.  We still have freedom because of these people that are laying right here, in our community, that we get to remember.  The sacrifice, too-sacrifice and freedom, the sacrifice they made for the freedom we have.”

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com

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Heather Mann

heather@cullmantribune.com