Cinda Held and Charlene Telgmann gazed at the sea of U.S. flags they and others had just placed at veterans’ graves in Grace Cemetery in Strasburg on a recent Saturday.

“You don’t realize how good this makes you feel until you come out here and do it,” said Telgmann.

The women are members of the Strasburg American Legion Auxiliary Liberty Unit 289. Every year the Auxiliary places flags on veterans graves at five cemeteries around Strasburg. This year they placed 219 flags.

“We have a map of where all the veterans are buried,” said Held.

One of the graves belongs to Held’s father, who was a World War II veteran. Held said people who have a veteran in their family are always appreciative of the flags.

“They look forward to that – going out to the cemetery and seeing all the flags. I think it makes everybody feel patriotic and sentimental,” she said.

The Auxiliary designates a day to place the flags. Held said it takes about three to four hours to complete, but she notes the Auxiliary has a lot of young helpers that make the task easier.

“We keep track to make sure we have every veteran flag put on. We kind of have a system in how we do it,” she said.

The tradition started with a World War I veteran who was a member of the local Legion, according to Auxiliary member Linda Oakley. He continued to place the flags until about 40 years ago.

“He got to where he couldn’t do it anymore,” said Oakley.

That’s when Oakley’s parents, who were members of the Legion and Auxiliary, took it over and it became a family tradition that included her and her siblings.

After Oakley’s father passed away in 2000, the tradition was eventually handed down to Oakley in 2003, when her mother passed away. It’s also the time other Auxiliary members began helping.

Oakley said going to the cemeteries and marking the graves with flags brings back memories of the veterans who are buried in them and a sense of duty.

“It looks so neat driving by the cemetery and the flags are waving in the wind. It just gives you a good feeling,” she said.

The tradition continues to be a part of Oakley’s family as her siblings and now her children and grandchildren help out.

Oakley said people are appreciative the Auxiliary places the flags a week early, giving them more time to see them.

“So many times people have things going on Memorial Day weekend. A lot them bring their flowers to the cemetery a week before. That way they already got their flag. We’ve had several people mention that it was so nice because they couldn’t come that Memorial Day weekend,” she said.

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Effingham, Boy Scout Troop 3 places flags the weekend before Memorial Day. Their effort mostly goes unrecognized, and for Scoutmaster C.J. Schmidt, that’s OK.

“We’re kind of one of those organizations no one really knows about, who does stuff in the background that people are used to seeing anymore. We’re here to help whether we’re seen or not. We’re here to serve others before ourselves,” he said.

Troop 3 has been placing flags at Oak Ridge for more than 40 years.

“Just recently in the last year or two, we’ve included a new female troop and a new Cub Scout Pack as well,” said Schmidt, who estimates they place about 400 flags.

Another troop, Troop 335, tries to put out flags at other cemeteries in the county, including Ewington, Edgewood, Mason and Altamont.

Schmidt said the tradition is all about participating and being reverent, and remembering the veterans who have passed on and who have given sacrifices.

Schmidt said placing the flags is also a learning opportunity for Scouts.

“I don’t know if anyone has tried to go out and identify graves before, but it can become kind of taxing to figure out which graves have served and which haven’t. They really gain a new perspective of those who have served and how to identify those people,” he said. “A lot of times what happens is for us it’s also coordinating together to make sure we run as efficiently as possible whenever we’re doing that.”

While Schmidt said the task may seem stressful, that changes when they’re done.

“At the end of the day, we sit down and look at everything we did and honestly, for the most part, the Scouts smile. They usually are thankful for the opportunity to do that because very rarely do you get the opportunity to go out and do something like this,” he said.

Schmidt has been involved with Scouting for nearly 20 years and hopes the tradition will continue as the number of Scouts dwindles. He said the tradition has a dual purpose.

“For me, it’s about showing our future leaders and you how to be involved in your community and give back in small ways, and to just take a breath, sit back, do some cheerful service and reflect on those who have given so much and to be thankful,” he said.

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