The American flag will be out in full force on Monday for Memorial Day, adorning homes, businesses and countless veterans’ graves nationwide as the country remembers those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.
But much like the service members they honor, flags can only serve for so many years before they get worn out. Several Triangle ceremonies over the holiday weekend included demonstrations of how a faded and tattered flags should be properly retired.
One demonstration was carried out Sunday evening by members of Cub Scout Pack 222 at the Macedonia Baptist Church on Holly Springs Road.
Another followed the decorating a veteran’s grave at Hillcrest Cemetery on Sunday by the members of Cary’s Sloan-Franklin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.
“The U.S. flag is more than a brightly colored cloth,” said Curtis Morris, a VFW Auxiliary member who led the event. “The flag should be treated with respect when it’s flying and equal respect when it’s retired.”
The flag ceremony kicked off Memorial Day events at the post on Reedy Creek Road. The veterans also visited Hillcrest Cemetery on Sunday, placing flags and flowers on the grave of William Perry Sloan, a U.S. Marine from Cary killed in World War II. The Cary VFW group takes its name from Sloan and another World War II casualty, Carl Frankin.
The veterans gathered Sunday never knew Franklin, Sloan, or even their surviving family members. For each of them, the weekend’s ceremonies served as a salute to their own fallen comrades.
Cary Town Councilman Jack Smith, an Army vet who spoke at the flag ceremony, told the crowd about his childhood friend, Patrick Smith.
They’d sat together in school, attended the same college, then parted ways when they enlisted in different branches of the military. Patrick became a fighter pilot and was later shot down.
“Sadly, my dear friend Pat never came home,” Jack Smith said.
For the younger veterans who have an increasing presence in the VFW, the losses are more recent. Army veteran Donald Moore said several members of his unit made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq in 2007. On Memorial Day weekend, he’s thinking of Sgt. Allen Greka, who hadn’t been in the combat zone long when he lost both legs to a land mine. His fellow soldiers managed to keep him alive for 30 minutes before he died from the injuries.
“Memorial Day is a big deal for me,” Moore said. “It’s really disturbing to me to see people just treat it as a barbecue holiday.”
Tyler Eichelberger – who left the Marine Corps in 2009 after three tours of duty in Iraq – also lost friends in the war. “I think about them all the time, but particularly on days like today,” he said. “These guys will always be with me.”
Eichelberger is one of the post’s youngest members. He thinks more Iraq and Afghanistan vets would benefit from the organization’s events – whether it’s a formal flag retirement ceremony or an afternoon spent swapping stories over cold beer. Regardless of age, veterans of World War II, Vietnam and recent conflicts have shared the same experiences, he added.
“What I make it a point to do is make sure my generation realizes this isn’t some old men’s club,” he said. “We always share this brotherhood wherever we are.”