Saturday, November 14, 2009

Avenue of Flags

Another Veteran's Day is behind us, and Marion County paid due tribute to our veterans. I stopped briefly by both free Hy Vee Breakfasts in Knoxville and Pella, spoke with a few friends, and took a couple of photos. Hundreds of veterans and their spouses were served breakfast, and as I watched them eat and converse with each other, I wished that I had the opportunity to speak with each and every one of them to learn their stories and share them with listeners. Of course, I have spoken to many Marion County veterans during my years at KNIA/KRLS, and have shared some of these stories, but never enough.

Perhaps my favorite Veteran's Day event is raising the flags for the Avenue of Flags at Graceland Cemetery in Knoxville. Over 200 flags are raised, and I have been told raising flags at Graceland has been the custom for over 50 years, with the details of the event's origins unclear.

Perhaps two dozen people of all ages gathered Tuesday, and flags were transferred from storage bins into the back of a pickup truck. A truck with poles slowly circled the cemetery, with volunteers pulling empty poles off of the truck and dropping them next to their stands along the paved paths through Graceland. A second truck followed, and from the bed of this truck Marilyn Miller passed out flags to those following who then attached the flags to the poles and raised them. Having attended for several years now the sounds are comforting, poles clanking to the ground, flag grommets snapping into place, metal sliding against metal, with a background of quiet conversation, and an occasional laugh. Finally, a prayer, gun salute, and taps.

Over the years I have have watched Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, other youth and veterans help each other countless times, raising the flag being a shared experience that transcends generations. It's a moving scene, not to be missed. This year, I watched a veteran of perhaps Korean War vintage and a girl scout raising a flag stumble and start to drop the flag and pole, then together catch it, making sure that the flag didn't touch the ground. He said "Whew, we were lucky that time!" She smiled and laughed, sliding the pole into place. With that flag and pole secure, they walked back to the slowly traveling pickup for another.

Dr. Bob Leonard

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