The true meaning of Memorial Day came to light when Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts joined with American Legion Post 1009 of Yorktown for their annual commemorative this weekend, placing flags near the graves of American soldiers who died in the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
"It's an annual and national event, but I like to do it just to honor the veterans and all they've done," said event organizer John McQuillan.
McQuillan is the finance officer for the local Legion post and the Boy Scouts were from Troop 164 with the Cub Scouts coming from Pack 251, who came together on Saturday to pay respects. The night before, 350 flags were placed on graves in the Amawalk cemetery by other troops. McQuillan spoke to the boys helping him, sharing his memories of Vietnam and war in general.
McQuillan would often kneel on the dewy grass, reach forward to dust or clean off a marker and then explain to the children who automatically formed in a semi-circle to learn more about the soldier they were honoring. McQuillan, who said he considers himself somewhat of an amateur historian, was able to give a few brief histories of the soldiers, and told the children how old each person was when they died. Some of the youngest soldiers to die left the children shocked, wondering aloud how it was possible for someone to die so young.
Michele Sustic, whose son Nicholas participated in the event said it was a great learning experience for all who attended.
"This is a way for them to get a feel for their freedom," she said. "And to learn and to better understand what other people gave up for that freedom."
Flags were placed at the graves of fallen soldiers, and flags from previous years were also replaced. The flags, which were supplied by the American Legion, are purchased mainly through funds through Legion fundraisers. On Saturday, some members were fundraising outside of supermarkets in Yorktown at the same time the flags were being placed. The flags that were collected from previous years were to be properly discarded at a campfire held by the Scouts.
Kevin Byrnes III, whose father helped lead the Cub Scouts on Saturday's event, said the day wasn't as joyous as he might have expected. "I just felt sadness doing it," he said after placing the flags next to a few of the graves. "Sadness about how these people died."
But fellow Cub Scout, Ankush Bhakta tried to tell Byrnes to look at it in a different perspective. "I was happy to do it, because I thought we showed them respect for what they did for us," he said.
What did you do on Memorial Day?