Volunteers help honor the fallen at State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake

The holiday we know as Memorial Day was first observed in the years following the Civil War. Relatives of those killed in battle would visit the graves of their loved ones and decorate them. It was called Decoration Day.

Today, it’s much of the same. We also see many cemeteries arrange to have flags placed next to each gravestone. That tradition, “Flags In,” was started at Arlington National Cemetery in 1948. In 70 years, different forms of it have spread around the nation.

On Friday, volunteers with the Army National Guard and ROTC Cadet Program at Eastern Washington University gathered at the State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake to place 2,000 flags next to the grave stones of veterans.

Over and over, teams of two volunteers worked in tandem. One making a hole, the other ensuring the Union was on the left, colors to the right. Then, one final salute.

Specialist in the Army National Guard Christopher M. Robinson was out for the second year in a row volunteering. He said, “it means a lot to be able to give something back to those who for a lot of people, it slipped their mind. They’ve forgotten.”

Vietnam veteran Wesley Anderson came out to show his support and shared there’s a reason why every flag is strategically placed, symmetrically with the stone.

“If you notice the stones are symmetrical at both an angle and front to back. This represents our last call. Our last formation,” Anderson explained.

Wesley too is a volunteer at the cemetery. He takes time on Friday’s to help military families process unimaginable grief.

“We didn’t have that,” Wesley said. “I came back from Vietnam when nobody cared. It was a tumultuous time our country’s history.”

He’s joined by Roy Morrison, who everyone calls Ed. Ed is a veteran of the Air Force; a friendly face with the warm greeting to every family preparing to bring their loved one to their final resting place.

“It’s just a draw. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it,” he said of his drive to volunteer.

Both Wesley and Ed say it’s an honor and a privilege that they hope to see continue long after they are gone.

“We are paying it forward and hopefully someday, someone will do it for us,” added Ed.

Seeing the soldiers volunteer their time on such an important day gives them hope and reassurance it will.

“It means a lot to be out here,” said specialist Robinson. “I’m always going to be out here doing this stuff.”