By Ashley Graves
The Cullman Times
With blue skies above and the sun beaming down, Army Iraqi Enduring Freedom veteran Randy McGraw bent over and placed an American flag at the grave of a deceased veteran Thursday.
Nearby, U.S. Air Force Vietnam veteran Jerry Willibey did the same.
For the Cullman County residents, it’s become a yearly tradition they and fellow Cullman VFW members do at the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend as a way to honor those who once served the country. By days end Saturday it’s estimated 600-700 flags will be placed on the graves of veterans throughout Cullman City Cemetery.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of,” U.S. Air Force Vietnam veteran Ken Brown said. “Those who have been in combat know the price our buddies have paid, so it’s really important for us to honor them and others for their sacrifice, and the VFW is proud to lead the community in that effort.”
As for McGraw, a Purple Heart recipient, helping do such a thing brings mixed emotions, as he lost his best friend during combat in 2003.
“He died in my lap,” McGraw said. “That was supposed to be me that died that night, not him. Without that, I wouldn’t have my son or my wife. So, it’s my pleasure to be out here doing this.”
The group is expected to have several pairs of extra hands to help with the project, as members of the Cullman Career Development Center’s JROTC are participating as well.
“We’re thrilled,” Brown said. “We’ve been doing a lot to support them, and now they’ll be out helping and supporting us. I think it’s a great thing for them to learn about, whether they decided to go into the military or not.”
In addition, members of the VFW will also begin erecting a total of 225 flags in the median along Highway 31 through town today.
On Saturday, members will be on site at Tractor Supply and Walmart beginning at 10 a.m. accepting donations for “Buddy” Poppy, a fund set up to help needy and disabled veterans, and the surviving family members of deceased veterans.
A Memorial Day ceremony is also scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at Veteran’s Park located at Sportsman Lake Park.
“While we honor living veterans each November, Memorial Day is one day each year that we honor hose who’ve given up their life for our country,” Brown said.
During the roughly 40-minute ceremony, poems will be read by a World War II Air Force veteran, a Vietnam Marine Corp veteran, and an Army Iraqi Enduring Freedom veteran. Brief remarks will also be made by state Sen. Paul Bussman, and state Reps. Mac Buttram and Randall Shedd.
“It’s an important thing for people to understand,” Brown said. “It’s a tremendous educational event for kids and grandkids so they can better understand the meaning of Memorial Day.”
* Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 135, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org