Baltimore County

Scouts with special needs among those who place flags on veterans' graves

As the clock struck 6:30 p.m. on May 24, more than 100 Boy Scouts spread across the Baltimore National Cemetery like a wave of patriotism.

The boys ranged from Tiger Scouts just getting involved with Scouting, to Eagle Scouts, who have reached the pinnacle of Scouting.

They each placed a small American flag exactly one foot in front of every gravestone in the cemetery on Frederick Avenue to prepare them for visits by family and friends who come to honor veterans throughout Memorial Day weekend.

One Arbutus troop had a unique outlook on the day's events.

Troop 337, which meets at Holy Nativity Lutheran Church on Linden Avenue, is a troop for boys with special needs.

"We try to make it special," said scoutmaster Tim Mills. "We build our unit around the needs of our boys."

Mills, a Catonsville resident, has cerebral palsy. He has participated in the Friday evening ceremony before Memorial Day for 25 of the 26 years that it has been around, basically each year of his Scout career.

"We've been trying to talk to our guys about veterans and help them develop a concept about what it means," the 31-year-old Eagle Scout said.

Manny Brow, a 12-year-old Boy Scout in Mills' unit, was among the 10 Scouts from the troop who took part in the event Friday. He said he was glad to be there to place flags.

"To remember the people that died for America," the Pikesville resident said on the reason for the efforts by his troop and the others who took part in event.

It is Brown's first year in the Boy Scouts and his first time laying the flags.

He said he thought it would take a long time but, to his surprise, the ritual began and was completed in less than 30 minutes.

"It's special because they died for us," Brown said.

Mills said he worked with the boys to ensure they understood the full importance of their actions at the cemetery Friday.

"It's because of our veterans that we have all the freedoms and rights we have as Americans," said Mills, who said every generation of his family has at least one veteran in it.

"These people are my life," he said, looking around the cemetery. "My cousins, my grandfathers."

"The grandfathers who I sit on their laps," he said. "The uncle that took me fishing."

Kimberly Brockman Turner, the new cemetery director at Baltimore National Cemetery, said she was thrilled to have the opportunity to see the phenomenon for the first time.

"I want to get through the whole cemetery and see everything unfold," she said.

She said the flags provided a sense of peace for families visiting during the holiday weekend, a time that can be particularly hard emotionally for many.

"When this whole cemetery is draped with beautiful flags, that's wonderful," Brockman Turner said.

"(This is a) patriotic event that you're selflessly giving your time to a family member, and it may not have been your family member," she said.

The flags, which are re-used every year, are placed at various checkpoints throughout the cemetery. At the appropriate time, the boys simultaneously placed them throughout the 72-acre property using the same method for each gravestone.

"We usually put our foot against the gravestone and place it at our heel," said Walter Myers, a 74-year-old who has been involved with the Scouts in some fashion for almost his entire life.

Members of the Arrowhead/National Pike Districts, which include troops with Scouts from Catonsville and Arbutus, also placed flags at Loudon Park Cemetery the day before and at Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery on May 25.

Steven Goldberg was doing volunteer public relations work with the Boy Scouts 26 years ago when the idea for the flag ceremony came to be.

"The National Cemetery called and asked if we would do a service project putting flags at all the gravestones," said Goldberg, a Perry Hall resident. "I said absolutely we would."

After the ceremony, everyone in the gathered at the main flagpole and stone wall that overlooks most of the property.

A color guard marched in the colors, Meyers and 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk — who said his grandfather is buried at the veterans' cemetery — spoke to the crowd and current and former service members were honored.

The ceremony ended with the slow, solemn playing of Taps and a salute to the colors as they were marched out.

"We remember veterans because that's the point of Memorial Day," Mills said

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