Veterans seek help in placing grave flags

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 22

A veterans’ tradition may be dying with the men who fought World War II.

For years, just before Memorial Day, veterans have placed American flags on the graves of their deceased comrades at Calvary Cemetery. Now there aren’t enough living veterans to do the job, leaders say, and they’re looking for help.

For the first time, three veterans groups – the American Legion’s Przybylski Post 642, Tony Wroblewski Post 18, and the Catholic War Veterans Logsdon-Walla Post 639 – will be asking the families of veterans to place the flags themselves. They say it’s a simple matter of declining manpower.

“Every year, World War II veterans are slowly passing away,” said Don Jezak, chaplain and former commander of Post 639. “A lot are crippled, ailing. We’re having a tough time getting help.”

Veterans in the two groups put about 20,000 flags on Calvary Cemetery graves every year. Each veterans group in the city is assigned to a cemetery.

A few years ago, they could count on about 50 veterans to help distribute them. “We’d be lucky to get 30 now,” Mr. Jezak said.

The young veterans they need to replenish their ranks – from Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War – have been slow to join. Only 2 per cent of Ohio’s American Legion members listed themselves as Gulf War veterans.

“They don’t get involved, and I don’t know why,” Mr. Jezak said.

Leaders have considered other options. He said local Boy Scouts have been recruited in the past, but they ended up playing ball and “horsing around” during the distribution. “You can’t do that,” he said.

Veterans hope family members will be able to distribute more than 10,000 flags. On Saturday, veterans will walk through the cemetery, scanning for flagless graves and filling in the vacant spots.

Family members are being asked to pick up grave flags today, tomorrow, or Saturday at the cemetery’s Veteran War Memorial, near the Parkside Boulevard entrance, from 2 to 6 p.m.

Having families involved may make it easier to locate some veterans’ graves. Some markers have been worn down and are nearly illegible. Family members may know which grave is which.

But more importantly, it may be the only way flags get placed at all.

“The veterans are getting thinner and thinner,” Mr. Jezak said. “Some can’t be in the hot sun, some are gimpy, some have bad legs, some have sugar diabetes. A lot of them are sick. A lot of them are gone.”