Do you have time this morning to do something special? An hour or two?
Would you like to be part of an American tradition borne of tragedy to honor the men and women who sacrificed to give you the opportunities you cherish as an American?
If you do, volunteers are needed this morning at Calvary Cemetery. You can come by yourself or bring the family.
Just stop by the front gate of the cemetery on Matsonford Road. That entrance is just outside of West Conshohocken in Lower Merion Township.
From 10 AM to Noon, volunteers will be placing upwards of about 2,000 small American flags at the gravesites of men and women who served as members of the military of the United States of America. The flags will be placed at both Calvary Cemetery and Gulf Christian Cemetery, located across Matsonford Road in Upper Merion Township, this morning.
In the Conshohocken area, these efforts are being led by the Conshohocken Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1074.
“We are placing 5,760 American flags on the graves of heroes,” explains Mr. Walter Hartnett, Commander of the Conshohocken VFW Post 1074. “We’re responsible for placing the American flags at several area cemeteries, including Calvary Cemetery, Old Saint Matthew’s Cemetery, Saint Matthew’s Cemetery, Saint Benedict’s Cemetery, and Gulf Christian Cemetery.”
Flags will be placed at these cemeteries as well as several local memorials in each of the area communities: Conshohocken, Lower Merion, Plymouth, Upper Merion, West Conshohocken, and Whitemarsh.
The American flags are provided to the Conshohocken VFW Post 1074 as well as a number of other veterans services and civic organizations in Montgomery County through the Montgomery County Veterans Affairs Department.
“This is a simple way for Americans to honor the lives of the men and women who have given so much for our country,” states Mr. Hartnett. “Some people may look at these flags as just cloth and a stick. But these flags are so much more to our veterans.”
“The American flag carries a lot of reverence to the members of the military and their families. As we place a flag at each grave, we return the favor to each person. We honor their service in that moment.”
These efforts on Memorial Day – once also known as “Decoration Day” – are not new. For generations, veterans services organizations and just ordinary folk have been taking the time to decorate the gravesites of the people who have served our nation.
In earlier times, the decorating was done with flowers on the holiday. Today, small American flags are placed at the graves.
For a number of years, the George Smith Post 79 of the Grand Army of the Republic of Conshohocken helped with decorating the gravesites of military veterans. The members of the post were chiefly veterans of the American Civil War.
In a news article on May 31, 1901, The Conshohocken Recorder reported that teams of members of the George Smith Post traveled to St Matthew’s Cemetery (today known as the “Old Saint Matthew’s Cemetery”) as well as to cemeteries in Barren Hill, Cold
Point, and Plymouth during Memorial Day that week. The individuals decorated the graves with flowers.
On June 2, 1899, The Conshohocken Recorder re-printed the speech given by Mr. George Bradford Carr of Philadelphia during Memorial Day ceremonies on Tuesday, May 30, 1899 (yes, Memorial Day was not always part of a three-day Memorial Day Weekend) at the Gulf Cemetery. According to The Philadelphia Times, Mr. Carr was an attorney.
A portion of his speech is re-printed here:
“Another lesson which we learn to-day, is that in the recent war new graves were made and new mounds of earth tell the story of sacrifice and death. Pluck your flowers from the wayside everywhere and strew them with loving hands upon the nation’s dead and remember, no matter when, nor how, nor where they fought nor where they fell, they are all heroes. Decorate each grave with loving reverence and forget all the bitterness of the past: “With malice toward none, with charity for all,” in this spirit the services of this day is beautiful and patriotic.”
The quote he references are the words of President Abraham Lincoln as he was sworn into office for a second term as President of the United States of America on March 4, 1865. President Lincoln sought the best for the nation in the days before the end of the American Civil War.
The photograph of boxes of flags is courtesy of the Conshohocken Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1074, 2018.
The photograph of Calvary Cemetery is courtesy of Google, 2012.
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© 2018 Richard McDonough