For the past 10 years, the number of American flags planted in the lawn outside Southern Regional High School’s 9/10 building, unfortunately, has grown each time the school’s Air Force Junior ROTC cadets set up to prepare the field for the annual Memorial Day tribute ..
“This year, the number went up 13 because of the Kabul bombing,” said Col. Joseph Potts, the Junior ROTC adviser for the past five years. “Each flag planted represents the 7,051 US service members who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. And it’s important for the cadets to do this, because they get to be a part of something that has a big impact to the local community. ”
It’s true. Every year, once the annual Memorial Day service is complete – it occurs the Friday before Memorial Day – hundreds of individuals and families can be seen at various times throughout the holiday weekend at the field of flags.
Some simply stand and reflect. Many families take photos, often with their children amid the sea of red, white and blue. Others kneel and pray.
“This is bigger than just the ROTC program and our school,” said junior Chloe Furlong, the program’s Corps Commander who oversees everything done by the cadets. or lived here in the past, but for a lot of people it also represents the loved ones they’ve lost. We do this to remember and appreciate them. We’re never going to forget the sacrifices they made for our country. ”
And while the cadets do a significant portion of the work in placing the flags – generally, they break up into teams of two to four, and each one has a role, whether it be creating the hole in the turf, inserting the flag into the ground, or holding the batch of flags that need to be placed at the moment – other students join the effort.
Throughout the day on May 27, several classes of students from the high school helped with the effort, as did multiple classes of middle school students. A few students gave up entire periods in their favorite classes to assist in one of the most important traditions during the school year.
“My mom always showed me pictures of this growing up and it’s a great thing to do,” said senior Jake Cornelius, whose mother, Kathleen, teaches math in the high school. It’s a sad thing, but it needs to happen because they gave up their lives for this nation. I believe all schools should do this. ”
Junior Stephen Swensen, who took charge as a sort of field general during the setup periods, spent a lot of time making sure all the flags were straight and properly lined up – his way of trying to ensure the field of flags was ready for presentation during the service scheduled for the next day.
“I love doing it,” he said. “This is a great show of respect for some of our veterans who didn’t make it home. It really puts things in perspective, which is that there are so many who gave everything for this nation. That’s the whole point of Memorial Day, to remember them, who they were and why they did it. It’s a humbling experience. ”
Technical Sergeant Aubrey Vasquez, the assistant adviser for the Junior ROTC program the past four years, said most of the 63 cadets leading the effort this year truly understand the significance of their role in serving the community for Memorial Day ceremonies.
“They realize it means a lot, to remember the fallen men and women of the military branches,” said Vasquez, who personally knew at least a dozen individuals who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. few cadets over the years come up to me, once we were done and cleaned up, and had come to tears, after they stepped back and really took a look at this. It’s a very important role to a lot of them. ”
Of course, the role the cadets fulfill goes well beyond the immediate task at hand – it’s all done to remind the community, for several days, that we should be thankful for those who gave up everything to serve our nation.
“Memorial Day isn’t just another day off from work or school. It’s not the start of summer around here,” Furlong said. “This is a bigger deal. It’s the day to remember all our fallen heroes. What we’re doing. is a small, visual representation of that. We have 7,051 flags here, but the number of men and women we’ve lost is much higher. ”
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