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Boy Scout Troops' flag placement ceremony at veterans cemetery a family affair

Baltimore National CemeteryMemorial DayTom QuirkBoy Scouts of America

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 veteran's gravestone in the cemetery on Frederick Avenue to prepare them for visits by family and friends who come to honor the veterans throughout Memorial Day weekend.

For Scott Wood and his sons, Joshua and Michael, the annual evening spent placing flags on the gravesites was a family affair.

The boys are members of Catonsville Troop 307, which was chartered more than 80 years ago.

Scott Wood said they have been coming to the event since Joshua, now 13, was in Tiger Scouts, the level at which youngsters, usually in first grade, are introduced to Scouting and before now 10-year-old Michael was even old enough to join.

"We have been coming to this event for 8 or 10 years," Scott Wood said.

"It's a nice way to start Memorial Day weekend," he said. "It has a lot of meaning."

"It's a wonderful image to watch the boys sweep across the field and see the red, white and blue," he said.

The flags, which are re-used every year, are placed at various checkpoints throughout the cemetery and when the time came, 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 for almost his entire life.

The two brothers joined more than 20 others from the troop that meets at Catonsville United Methodist Church, in the Friday evening ceremony.

Michael Wood proudly displayed a souvenir he received from the evening's work: a broken flag he folded into a small triangle.

"They told me I could keep this," he said, proudly displaying the delicate fabric with a beaming smile.

"It was hanging on (to the pole) by two threads," he said of the flag. "When the wind blew, it came off.

"I think when there's an old flag, it's been through so much, it's been doing it all these years," the Boy Scout said.

"It means there's been so many years of respecting these people," Michael said.

"I kept this flag as a souvenir so I can remember that I do this every year and I give my time to pay my respect," he said.

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.

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," Goldberg, a Perry Hall resident, said. "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.

"I can't even describe how big (this place is) and how many people who lost their lives," Michael Wood said.

"I just always know there are so many people protecting our country," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Baltimore National CemeteryMemorial DayTom QuirkBoy Scouts of America
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