AGAWAM, Mass. (WWLP) – Hundreds of volunteers gathered to place American flags at the headstones of heroes Wednesday at the Agawam Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
There are 9,452 headstones in the cemetery, each bearing the name and service record of an American Hero. Every one was honored Wednesday with the flag they served. More than 200 volunteers attended, some for friends, some for family, all somberly honoring their sacrifice.
“This is a time honored tradition I never miss. This year was special. My dad was laid to rest here. His stone put in just a few months ago and I got to place the flag, so that was really special,” said Brian Willette, a VFW and State Sergeant at Arms.
Flagging ceremonies like this one and others around the country are not just an opportunity for friends and family to honor those they loved, they also serve as a somber reminder of the terms of service for those actively serving our country.
“When we all sign on the dotted line, we acknowledge this could be our fate as well. We realize that service to our country sometimes calls upon that earlier than one would like. So it is emotional,” said Major Kate Askew of the 104th Fighter Wing.
This day of honor, though, takes much more than 90 minutes of work. The ground crew at the cemetery spend 14 to 16 hour days in the week leading up and following Memorial Day, making sure that every burial done over the wintertime has their headstone installed. That means some 25 installations a day, each given meticulous care to bring them up to the high standards of the facility.
Memorial Day will be commemorated there on Monday at 1 p.m., a chance to honor the sacrifices that allow long weekends, barbecues and fireworks to be a staple of American summers.
“I think it’s important to go out in towns and communities and enjoy parades and events, even barbeques and cookouts. I think those that paid the ultimate sacrifice to see their service acknowledged,” said Askew.
Each flag will be removed, and recycled for next year on Wednesday. The cemetery is asking for volunteers to help that process, as well.