CHARLESTOWN — As volunteers wandered through the cemetery on a quiet Friday morning, they paid tribute to the service members laid to rest there.
In honor of Memorial Day, the American Legion Post #335 in Charlestown gathered Friday with a group of volunteers to place American flags on veterans’ grave sites in the community, including many at the Charlestown Cemetery. American Legion volunteers also placed flags at cemeteries in Otisco, Henryville, New Washington and Bethlehem.
The flags will remain at the cemeteries through Memorial Day, according to Brian Barnett, post commander for Post #335.
“We don’t want anyone to go flagless on this day,” he said.
Barnett served for 24 years in the U.S. Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and he participated in Friday’s tribute to deceased veterans.
The placing of the flags is about paying respect to service members at a time when the country remembers the fallen, he said.
“You reflect on what they stood for, whether they died in war and were buried here, or they just died of natural causes — these are people who sacrificed for their nation,” he said.
As he walked through the cemetery, he took note of graves of people who served in wars throughout the country’s history, including a grave of a man who served in the Spanish-American War, and he paid his respect to a Korean War veteran, Robert Hall, a local Purple Heart recipient who died Dec. 30, 2019.
Barnett’s own father, Charles Barnett, was a World War II veteran who served in the 3rd Infantry Division, and he was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and the raid on Berlin. As Barnett placed flags at the Charlestown Cemetery, he visited his father’s grave site, where a flag already had been placed.
“He didn’t really talk about [the war] too much,” Barnett said. “There were a lot of things he might not have been too proud of or things he didn’t really enjoy doing, and he didn’t talk about it too much, and I can understand why, having served myself.”
Bill Christopher has been placing flags at Charlestown Cemetery every year since 2008. He served in U.S. Marines and U.S. Air Force for more than two decades.
“I got 23 years in, so I don’t want to reflect too much — I just do this in honor of the people who served and got killed, or had served in their life,” he said. “Don’t forget your veterans — even when they pass away, don’t forget them.”
Joni Rich, a volunteer with the American Legion Post #335 Auxiliary, also participated in the flag-placing Friday morning. She didn’t serve in the military herself, but her father, who is also involved in the American Legion, served in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s.
This is the first year she has volunteered at the cemetery, she said.
“It makes you think,” she said. “It touches your heart, or it does mine, anyway, to think that these people, whether they died during war or after, they served their country, and they were just good Americans, good men and good women.”
Virginia Johnson, a member of the American Legion Post #335 Auxiliary, was among the volunteers placing flags at the Charlestown Cemetery. Her father, George Doss, a World War II veteran, is buried in the cemetery, and she always makes sure there is a flag placed on her father’s grave before she leaves, she said.
Johnson estimates that flags were placed on about a thousand graves between the different locations. The American Legion post doesn’t have a list of names, but volunteers walk through the cemeteries to search for graves of service members, most of which are marked with a flat stone.
“If it weren’t for these guys here, we wouldn’t be here today — and the ones who are fighting for us,” she said. “This is the least we can do for them. I can’t say it makes me happy to do it, but it’s an honor to be able to get out here and do it.”