Dozens of volunteers came out to Petersburg Memorial Cemetery to arrange flags before Memorial Day — to the pleasant surprise of Petersburg’s American Legion post. It usually falls to Post 14 to plant flags at the cemetery.  However, the post’s core members are aging. Many who led Memorial Day preparations in the past have passed away — or, are in such poor health, they can’t do it anymore. 

A crowd of people were out planting flags near gravesites despite the rain and bugs the week before Memorial Day. Killian Rafferty was with her nine-year-old daughter, Leona. Rafferty said she brought her daughter along because she was curious about the event. 

“She’d never been to the cemetery and was happy to help,” said Rafferty. “She’s a little worker bee, so she was very happy to come along and help.”

The two are looking for headstones with military service markers on them. When they find one, they place a flag on it. Veterans who served during wartime get a different grave marker — a bronze medallion. It takes the pair a while to find an unmarked grave. That’s because there are so many helping out — people came early and in 20 minutes, the job was nearly done. Rafferty is neither a veteran, nor a Legion member — though her father and grandfather served. She said Memorial Day means a great deal to her. 

“It just makes me think of all the veterans and what people have done for our country, said Rafferty. “And we have our freedom and we have our right to speech. We have so many things because people have fought for this.”

Stanley Hjort carried flags and medallions in one hand, and his walking cane in the other. Hjort has been active in the American Legion for over 50 years. He said, compared to the state of the Post 14 a couple months ago, he was pleasantly surprised about the day’s turnout. 

“Well, so far so good,” said Hjort. “Gee whiz. We got lots of folks here. We’ve raised more interest and there’s more people getting involved.”

Hjort and others in Petersburg’s post were worried that nobody would step up to prepare the cemetery after one of their core members passed away. Paul Anderson, a Vietnam War veteran, used to organize the flag-planting. He died in January at the age of 77. Hjort said, as he himself has aged, Memorial Day means more to him. 

“We have to remember these people here,” said Hjort. “As you age, you gain an understanding about the people that actually served and gave their lives probably on foreign soil or on the water.”

Chief Petty Officer John Palmer is with the US Coast Guard. He came to Petersburg to do an assessment on the Coast Guard Cutter Pike. Another officer told him about the flag-planting, so he took a walk down to the cemetery to lend a hand.

“To me, Memorial Day is a chance for those that are still serving and those that have served to basically remind everybody else of the sacrifices that people have made for our country and for their freedoms,” said Palmer.

Stacey Paulsen is another volunteer. She served in the Air Force and has been part of the American Legion for 22 years. She said it was a huge deal to her to see people from outside the organization pitching in. 

“I arrived four minutes early, and thought I was late, said Paulsen. “That’s because everybody was basically done. It looks like we’ve got quite a crew coming out — veterans and military brats and civilians who just had families who served and who love their country and wanted to come out and help.”

Paulsen said it is important for people to remember that Memorial Day isn’t supposed to be about living veterans like herself — but to honor and mourn those who actually died during service.

“I can sum it up pretty easily,” said Paulsen. “It’s some gave or all gave some and some gave all and to me this is about the ones who gave all in support of their country. These people all served their country. As living veterans, this is the least we can do — to come out and to honor their memory.”

Petersburg’s American Legion Post 14 welcomes all local veterans to register — those who received an honorable discharge, and those who served even one day on active duty.